Not Rated Dir: Francois Truffaut | Twilight Time | 1h 47min
Plot: What’s it about?
As I like to mention repeatedly, Francois Truffaut is my favorite director of the French New Wave. His films rank as some of my favorites of all time, especially Jules et Jim and The 400 Blows. Over the past decade, the Criterion Collection have done a terrific job of releasing most of his catalogue with the exception of only a few films. Recently, Twilight Time, a small boutique distribution label, have released three of Truffaut’s films on Blu-ray for the first time- The Bride Wore Black, The Story of Adele H, and Mississippi Mermaid. These are considered by many to be some of Truffaut’s lesser works, and Truffaut (who was notoriously critical of his own films) would probably agree. Personally, I could not resist the urge to purchase these immediately. The first of the three that I sat down to review was Mississippi Mermaid. I loved it immediately. The second that I sat down to review was The Bride Wore Black.
I was extremely excited to watch this film. First off, I love revenge stories ranking Chan-work Park’s vengeance trilogy as some of my favorite films. Second, Truffaut is the master. One of the greatest directors of all time. Period. Third, Raoul Coutard is one of my favorite cinematographers of all time. Fourth, Bernard Herrmann, composer of Hitchcock’s classics composed the score. To say I was excited would be a vast understatement. Unfortunately, when asked later in life if there was one film that Truffaut would not have made, this was it. After watching it, I understand why.
The film revolves around a bride who seeks revenge on the five men who killed her groom on her wedding day. Sound like a certain Tarantino film starring Uma Thurman? Believe it or not, Tarantino was influenced by films starring Meiko Kaji (most notably Lady Snowblood) and had never actually seen Truffaut’s film. After watching the film, the films are nothing alike aside from a similar idea for a revenge story. The Bride Wore Black stars Jeanne Moreau as the bride, Julie Kohler. She uses her feminine guile to get to each of the men and kill them, appealing to different aspects of each man’s character.
The film is pretty bleak and humorless, and to be honest it is just sort of bland. Jeanne Moreau is good in the film, but is noticeably past her prime at age forty, looking strangely worn out. This part was distressing to me since I love Jeanne Moreau, but she was not properly cast for this film. The role demanded a younger actress, possibly Catherine Deneuvre. On top of that, the film is a bit of a mess. Scenes drag that should be exciting. Coutard and Truffaut were arguing and never got on the same page. Herrmann and Truffaut were arguing and never got on the same page, although I personally liked the score.
At the end of the day, this film was a big disappointment. Is it possible I went into it with higher hopes than I should have? Yes. But can you blame me? Given the amount of unbelievable talent that worked on this film, it should have been incredible. The results are not terrible, they are just terribly disappointing.
Video: How’s it look?
Twilight Time did a good, but not quite fantastic job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec. For a limited release of a fifty year old film, the transfer looks good, but not quite as good as their release of Mississippi Mermaid. There are a few small problems with the transfer, mostly showing up whenever text is overlaid on the film, which can have a bit of a soft look. I would say I was happy with this release, but not blown away visually. It could honestly also be that the visuals in the film are not as impressive as one would expect watching a Truffaut film with Raoul Coutard (probably my favorite cinematographer) working the cameras. In the commentary it became obvious that there were disagreements between the two, and watching the film this makes sense. This is not their strongest outing. One thing people may find peculiar is that the yellow subtitles at the bottom of the screen are not optional. They are mandatory! This struck me as bizarre, but didn’t bother me, since I am only a novice at speaking French.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The audio treatment of The Bride Wore Black was incredibly competent. Being a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track, it can be expected that range is severely limited, but Twilight Time delivers on the most important aspect: clarity. Dialogue is extremely clear, and even at the loudest volumes there was no noticeable hiss. The score by Bernard Hermann is one of the high points of an otherwise not so great film. The only caveat would be that even at high volumes the track is not going to blast out of your speakers, but this didn’t bother me. Great stuff.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Theatrical Trailer
- MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer
- Isolated Score Track
- Commentary by Julie Kirgo, Steven C. Smith, and Nick Redman- This commentary track is with two of the same folks who did the commentary track for the Mississippi Mermaid release. They are in discussion with Steven C. Smith, a biographer for Bernard Herrmann. This is a very interesting commentary for the most part. It does seem to drag a little bit after the one hour mark.
- Extra CD: Conversation Piece: An Unvarnished Chat With Bernard Herrmann – This is a cool added feature – a full interview with the deceased composer on a CD to listen in your car or wherever. I actually prefer that they give CDs for interviews that are only audio. Frees me up to listen whenever instead of staring at a blank screen.
The Bottom Line
The Bride Wore Black could have been incredible. Given the talented professionals that worked on this film, the results are not at all what I expected. The film is a bit of a mess and a bit of a bore. Truffaut said this is the one film that he would not make if he could take back any of his films, and I understand why. One day I will watch it again, but for now I would not recommend this film. That said, Twilight Time have given this film a solid treatment, a great commentary, and a cool interview with Bernard Herrmann, so if you are a fan of this film this release will not disappoint. I feel bad to not recommend a film from one of my personal heroes, but this is not at all his finest hour.