TIFF Cinematheque presents a Summer in France: ‘The Bride Wore Black’ has a reputation that precedes it, but not nearly as good as advertised

The Bride Wore Black

Directed by François Truffaut

Written by François Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard

France, 1968

The Bride Wore Black has a reputation that precedes it. It’s critically lauded, from the 1960’s, in French, by the legendary François Truffaut, a paean to Alfred Hitchcock, and the afflatus to Quentin Tarantino. This should be a great film by design, right?

Even though the film’s standing with critics seems to be universal, it’s not nearly as good as advertised, which makes the film’s shortcomings even more disappointing. Like it’s apocryphal prestige, The Bride Wore Black sets up an experience of high potential and intrigue, only to flounder in an anti-climatic misfire.

The bride in question is Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau). A recent widow, ‘widow’ being the impetus, Kohler leaves town following an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

Once out, she makes it her duty to track down five men who do not know her, and kill them, with the help of her womanly charms as subterfuge.

With each endeavor, we find out more about why she’s doing it, and how it all connected with her tumultuous past.

To further elucidate the intricacies of the plot would be to spoil them altogether, but there is justifiable reason to compare this to a certain Tarantino film, one with a rhyming title.

Although a rather elaborate homage to the high-tension and suspense of Hitchcock movies, The Bride Wore Black lacks the required thrills and climaxes that made the attributed films great. In particular, the film is about a woman’s murderous exploits, and in that regard, the film is a massive letdown.

Without being too debauched, it’s entirely within the viewer’s right to expect dramatic and intense payoffs, especially since the film spends so much time on the set-up.

Like Hitchcock, Truffaut will invest an exorbitant amount of time engrossing you into the movie’s circumstance, making you dread, yet anticipate an exciting finish. But as tension mounts to almost unstable proportions, the ensuing climax is extremely bathetic.

In one example, Kohler tracks a man to his place of work. Once she gets his attention, she approaches him with a gun concealed under a piece of garment. As they get closer, we expect her to shoot, but, in an unpremeditated chance incident, the police come to whisk him away before anything happens.

Besides this example, the other deaths are fairly dissatisfying, mainly because some of them aren’t even shown.

But it’s important, however, to note that the deaths aren’t the main focus of the film. Like in Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible, the film is about understanding why she’s doing what she’s doing.

In most conventional films, the story will first document the cause and then the effect, making the murders the key points of interest and importance.

But in The Bride Wore Black, Truffaut does things differently. We are immediately thrown into Kohler’s abattoir, and are then forced to ponder why she’s doing this, and whether or not it’s justified.

It gives moral complexity to a film that could’ve been devoid of any, making us yearn to understand her savage transgressions, rather than cheering for them.

This, on the surface, seems to invalidate the previous assertion that the film is bathetic, but it doesn’t, mainly due to its structural faults.

If the title or the Tarantino allusion hasn’t given you an idea of why she’s killing these men, it should be more than apparent by her third victim. The problem is that there are two more.

With her motivations already made evident, her story becomes elementary. But because the film doesn’t change its approach to the storytelling following the revelation, the sequences become repetitive, with the conclusions forgone.

By the time she meets her fourth victim, we no longer have the inclination to understand her character. Thus, we are watching a potential murder, and with such tension building and an ominous score by Bernard Herrmann, we do expect a more satisfying payoff.

Furthermore, even with her motives clear, it still isn’t very believable, particularly because the film does a pretty poor job in creating character dynamics or setting up a proper historical context.

You know Kohler was wronged, but because we don’t get a better understanding or appreciation of her situation before it happened, we don’t fully believe that she will go to such extremes.

Instead, the film will justify her actions by painting the men as womanizers and misogynists, in a rather lazy and specious attempt to make both Kohler and the audience hate them.

The film is not entirely irredeemable, however, mainly due to the acting of Jeanne Moreau and because of a few moments of genuine inspiration by Truffaut.

In one particular example of creative verve, Truffaut demonstrates how obsessive and consumed Kohler is of the five men by having her actually be a part of their lives.

Moreau will then attack this proposition with ample grace under pressure, giving a tortured but determined performance, which ultimately lifts the film up to a pedestal it doesn’t truly deserve.

Moreau was widely prasied for her acting, and in the end, out of everything in The Bride Wore Black, it may be the only thing that deserves to be.

-Justin Li

The Bride Wore Black is a part of TIFF Cinematheque’s ‘Summer in France’. For more information and tickets, please visit the official website

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