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“A Lovingly Sleazy Tribute to Hitchcock” — The Bride Wore Black (Blu-Ray Review)

4 min read
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Anyone with even a cursory interest in film history is likely familiar with and the . As one of a cadre of anti-establishment French film critics associated with the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, Truffaut was instrumental in establishing the basic cinematic language of the arthouse circuit, most famously with his slyly subversive coming-of-age feature, The 400 Blows (1959). But while his peers, such as Jean-Luc Godard and Agnès Varda, have firmly canonised works from across the full span of their careers, by comparison Truffaut's extensive filmography often feels overlooked.

This release from , a gorgeous digital transfer of (1968), highlights a notable influence on Truffaut's iconoclastic oeuvre—his admiration for the taut suspense of 's crowd-pleasing thrillers. While Truffaut's immense respect for Hitchcock was well-documented (most famously in his book Hitchcock/Truffaut (1966) which chronicled a week-long dialogue between the pair), with The Bride Wore Black Truffaut turned that esteem into a smartly-constructed homage. That it pales slightly in comparison to Truffaut's part-time mentor is more to Hitchcock's credit than Truffaut's detriment.

Based on a book of the same title by crime writer Cornell Woolrich, The Bride Wore Black is, in essence, a simple revenge story. Following a failed suicide attempt, the titular bride (Jeanne Moreau) strikes out for some Old Testament-style justice from the five men who were responsible for the death of her husband on their wedding day, tracking each one down in turn to take her bloody retribution. Eagle-eyed readers out there may have spied another filmic connection here with 's (2003), which works from a near identical conceit. For what it's worth, Tarantino claims to have never seen The Bride Wore Black, though the idea of cinema's biggest film nerd never having seen a sleazy tribute from one filmmaking great to another is vaguely laughable.

From the off, Truffaut puts his allusions to Hitchcock front-and-centre. Our viewpoint is perpetually that of the voyeur, following the bride between locations and prospective targets in a variety of lengthy tracking shots and extended point-of-view perspectives. In much the same leering fashion as Hitchcock, Truffaut perpetually ties sexuality and violence together (albeit shot through with a more recognisably French bohemian attitude to pursuing extramarital affairs and sharing sexcapades), both in the knowing way that the bride uses her attractiveness as a lure for her victims, and in the piggish horniness of nearly every man she ensnares. As an early lech notes, “Don't run after women, but don't let any get by.”

Truffaut, never one to miss an opportunity, even drafts Hitchcock's long-time collaborator, the legendary American composer , whose catalogue includes, but is far from limited to, Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), and Brian De Palma's own Hitchcock homage Obsession (1976). And yet despite this tendency toward emulation, there's still a slight conflict in the material. Truffaut's own personality pokes through frequently, most notably in his penchant for imbuing short-lived characters with a strange internal life, as when one particularly slow-witted dope attempts to give his fusty abode a little more feminine appeal by taking down his nudie pictures and replacing them with mountain ranges, the stains left by the voluptuous pin-ups still visible on the musty walls.

Where Truffaut struggles more is in sustaining the moment-to-moment tension that made Hitchcock's work so compulsive for contemporary audiences. In the build up to each kill the action cuts between the bride's slow, purposeful, and vaguely mournful movements and the innocuous comings-and-goings of her surrounding environment, sharpening the contrast between the two. One gormless victim haplessly watches a performance from a pianist and cellist, each pregnant pause cut against by the stroke of a bow and the tinkering waterfall of fingers hitting keys. Then, when the violence occurs, Truffaut flips to crash zooms and blunt-force cuts that cross the 180 and switch focus to extraneous elements, adding to the discord—a scarf billowing in the wind as a man tumbles to his death. If it sounds thrilling, the issue is that smack between the building suspense and the climactic action Truffaut places a protracted flirtation, shot with the same quasi-realism of Truffaut's other work. It's an approach that, by the end, can't help but leave audiences a little cold.

Limited Edition Special Features

  • High-Definition digital transfer
  • Original uncompressed French mono PCM audio
  • Archival interviews with François Truffaut (1968, 12 mins) and Jeanne Moreau (1969, 5 mins)
  • Appreciation by filmmaker Kent Jones (Hitchcock/Truffaut) (2023, 15 mins)
  • Barry Forshaw on Cornell Woolrich and the adaptation (2023, 9 mins)
  • Original trailer
  • Les surmenés (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, 1958, 25 mins) – an early short written by Truffaut and starring Jean-Claude Brialy
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Reversible sleeve featuring designs based on original posters
  • Limited edition booklet featuring archival writing by Truffaut and Moreau, and a contemporary article on the film by Penelope Houston
  • Limited edition of 3000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings

The Radiance edition of The Bride Wore Black arrived in the UK on on May 15th.