Director: François Truffaut
Screenplay: François Truffaut
Based on a Novel by: Cornell Woolrich (as William Irish)
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Nelly Borgeaud, Marcel Berbert, Michel Bouquet
Country: France, Italy
Running Time: 123 min
Year: 1969
BBFC Certificate: 12

After getting his career off to a strong start with the runaway critical and commercial success of The 400 Blows, the French New Wave luminary François Truffaut trod somewhat of a rocky path following this. Whilst he directed a few much-loved hits, he also had his fair share of flops and poorly-received films.

The first feature-length sequel to The 400 Blows, 1968’s Stolen Kisses, got Truffaut back on track though, proving to be popular with audiences and critics alike.

The financial success of this allowed the director to up his game for his next film, Mississippi Mermaid, working with a higher budget than usual and shooting on location on the island of Réunion, as well as the south of France.

Truffaut returned to the writing of Cornell Woolrich for the source material, after making The Bride Wore Black just one year prior. That earlier film had been panned by critics and Truffaut himself later on, so it seems an odd choice so soon after, but The Bride Wore Black had done quite well at the box office, so perhaps the director was thinking of his pocketbook rather than his reputation.

Indeed, Mississippi Mermaid once again received a bit of a bashing by the critics. It performed fairly well at the box office though and, over the years, its reputation has grown, as have those of some of Truffaut’s other less initially-beloved titles.

Radiance Films obviously believe that Mississippi Mermaid is worth your time as they’re adding the film to their finely-curated roster of titles. Having enjoyed their release of The Bride Wore Black a great deal, I requested a screener for Mississippi Mermaid and my thoughts follow.

In the film, Jean-Paul Belmondo plays Louis Mahé, a wealthy tobacco plantation owner living on the idyllic island of Réunion. He yearns for companionship, so places a ‘lonely-hearts’ advert, asking for a wife. He finds a match and, through mail correspondence, he becomes engaged to Julie Roussel, a woman he’s never met.

When Julie arrives (in the guise of Catherine Deneuve), Louis is captivated by her beauty, though she bears no resemblance to her photo. Despite this, they marry. However, their honeymoon is short-lived. ‘Julie’ turns out to be a con artist named Marion Vergano who soon empties Louis’ bank accounts before vanishing. Heartbroken but strangely fixated, Louis embarks on a desperate search for the woman who stole his heart and his fortune.

When he does track Marion down to the south of France though, he’s not sure what to do with her, leading to a mysterious tale of love and obsession.

After starting out in the mould of a relatively straightforward but highly effective thriller, Mississippi Mermaid morphs into a twisted romance surrounding a doomed, destructive, possibly masochistic relationship, where our protagonist keeps getting drawn to a woman who clearly isn’t any good for him. Truffaut is either examining toxic relationships or suggesting love is painful in all forms.

As such, Mississippi Mermaid is quite an intriguing film. However, I didn’t fully warm to it, unfortunately.

It may be because I was swept up in the mystery of the initial setup, which had more than a flavour of Truffaut’s idol, Alfred Hitchcock, but then becomes its own animal. The second half, in particular, is more laid back and talk-heavy, delving into the couple’s relationship rather than pursuing a gripping narrative. I felt the film ran out of steam through this section, though there are a couple of nice twists later on to keep you on your toes.

I also struggled to accept the fact that Louis would continue to be drawn back to Marion, after all he goes through. Yes, she’s very attractive but surely nobody is deluded enough to be that much of a glutton for punishment. You could argue the terrifying levels of domestic violence around the world would back it up but I found it hard to root for a character who had little reason to keep going back for more.

Mississippi Mermaid has some playful stylistic touches here and there, with Truffaut using crops and vignettes in interesting ways and putting together an effective dream montage at one point.

Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo are both acting legends and prove their worth here. Deneuve gives her character the necessary aloofness and Belmondo plays the obsessed Louis very well, even if he wouldn’t be my first choice for a lonely businessman.

Overall, whilst I felt Mississippi Mermaid was a little overlong, causing my interest to wane towards the end, you could argue this befits the narrative and there’s plenty to appreciate, regardless. Plus, the first half is fantastic, so it’s still a film I’d recommend.

Film:

Mississippi Mermaid is out on 29th July on region B Blu-Ray, released by Radiance Films. The transfer looks great, providing a natural look with lovely colours and grain. I’ve used screengrabs throughout this review to give you an idea of how it looks, though these have been compressed. There’s a little hiss in places on the audio but this is likely an issue with the original material and, otherwise, it sounds good.

LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES

– High-Definition digital transfer
– Uncompressed French mono PCM audio
– Archival interview with Truffaut from 1969 in which the filmmaker discusses his work as a director, screenwriter and actor (1969, 34 mins)
– Archival interview with Jean Renoir who discusses the work of Truffaut (1969, 6 mins)
– Interview with French cinema expert Ginette Vincendeau (2024)
– Audio commentary by critic Glenn Kenny (2024)
– Original trailer
– Optional English subtitles
– Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters
– Limited edition booklet featuring archival writing by Truffaut and contemporary writing on the film
– Limited Edition of 3000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings

Glenn Kenny provides a commentary over the film. He talks about the differences between the novel and the adaptation. He also analyses the film in general, talks about its reception and touches on many other related topics. It’s a solid track.

There’s a 35-minute archival interview with Truffaut too, which was recorded just after the release of The Last Metro. In it, the writer, director and sometime actor discusses his work as a whole. There’s only a brief mention of Mississippi Mermaid in particular but there’s plenty of interesting material about his filmmaking approach.

Ginette Vincendeau’s interview is a handy coverall piece which provides some background before analysing the film. She’s honest about some of its flaws and how those might have put off audiences and critics, but also digs into the film’s more interesting aspects.

There’s also a short 6-minute interview with Jean Renoir, in which he talks of his admiration for Truffaut. Mississippi Mermaid is dedicated to him and contains a clip from one of his film, so the interview is a relevant addition to the disc.

I wasn’t provided with a copy of the booklet to comment on that, unfortunately.

Overall, it’s a decent package for a film that is well worth your time.

Disc/package:

Mississippi Mermaid - Radiance
Film
Disc/Package
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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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