The Bride Wore Black July 1, 2021
1 Hr., 47 Mins.
he first movie French filmmaker François Truffaut wrote and directed following the publication of the book Hitchcock/Truffaut (1966) — a culmination of several conversations he had had with English director Alfred Hitchcock across a week in 1962 — was, fittingly, a thriller made in a mode that evoked the storied Master of Suspense. The film, The Bride Wore Black, was released in 1968, and is a tale of obsession. It’s about a
widow, Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau), fixated on making right the wrong of her husband’s accidental death. He was shot down, seemingly at random, on their wedding day, as he and Julie were walking out of the church venue’s front steps into their honeymoon vehicle.
In this cool-to-the-touch movie, turned more cinematic because of a sweeping orchestral score from regular Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann, Julie becomes something of an angel of death. We discover, late into the movie, that the bullet that killed Julie’s beau was shot out of pure negligence. In a building across the street from the church, a quintet of drunken men, playing poker, was fooling around with a shotgun (Lord knows why it was in the room in the first place). When a struggle ensued over putting it away (one man, overwhelmed by his conscience, tried to get the gun’s neck away from the window), catastrophe struck.
Truffaut, who co-wrote the movie with Jean-Louis Richard, doesn’t explain how (and one wishes he did, since it seems nearly impossible) Julie found out exactly who all was complicit in her husband’s killing. All the men swore secrecy; they made a pact to never again contact each other to promise no one could ever make connections between them. But Julie manages to track them all down, and swears revenge. She has a little notebook in which she stores their
names in squiggly cursive. In the course of the movie, Julie pays visits to each of the men under different guises before killing them in distinctive ways. Julie isn’t content, it seems, neatly offing her victims — cornering them into hidden spots and doing what she will with a silencer-capped gun, for instance. She likes to do a little dance — flirtatiously intrigue her victims, get them comfortable enough with her to think they’re in control — before surprising them with a death as unexpected as their blindsided victim’s. “Life is like a race. Someone has to win and someone has to lose,” one victim (Michael Lonsdale) advises his young son before he’s met Julie. In The Bride Wore Black, no one is ever a winner.
Unlike Hitchcock’s most-loved movies, which generated suspense that could so much take over your body that you practically licked your lips in response, The Bride Wore Black maintains a distancing aloofness. It’s never so tense that you completely lose yourself — this makes it somewhat unsatisfying as escapism. Although its mood and conceit (which feels, like the ones typically found in Hitchcock’s movies, far away from anything that could happen in real life) summon up the Master of Suspense, you’re never not aware of Truffaut’s own touch — a benefit in this case.
The Bride Wore Black is more grounded in reality, and as such is not as fun as a Hitchcock film. As played by a chilly Moreau, Julie always feels like a woman eaten up by pain; it’s hard to savor vengeance when the grief is this overwhelming. And by taking time to humanize if not totally sympathize with Julie’s victims, Truffaut gets at how while revenge conceptually is clean, in practice it’s messy, not just because of the obvious legal complications but also the emotional ones. (You can detect, ever so subtly, Julie twitch with emotional conflict as she gets into the nitty-gritty of her plan: one man is getting married soon; another is a born loser who seems genuinely excited to have a woman show interest in him; another has a child Julie has to account for as she schemes.) The Bride Wore Black is a revenge movie where revenge isn’t so much satisfying as it is more fodder for a personal hell. They say revenge is a dish best served cold; in The Bride Wore Black, revenge isn’t just cold — it comes with a bad aftertaste. B+