#44 — The Bride Wore Black (François Truffaut, 1968)
Quentin Tarantino insists that he never saw The Bride Wore Black before conceiving of his Kill Bill films, but I don’t believe him. I’m sure he’s not lying, that he’s actually convinced François Truffaut’s film wasn’t part of his personal repertoire. He’s never been reticent about crediting the cinematic efforts he freely pilfered from before, so why would he start in this instance? The plot overlap is so thorough, though, right down to the notepad paper where the protagonist crosses off the list of five names of people she’s seeking vengeance against for making her a widow on her wedding day. Besides, how could the king of the movie geek sponges have resisted a relatively obscure film by a French New Wave master with such a provocative, salacious title?
This is the film Truffaut made after his problematic excursion into the employ of Hollywood studios, making Fahrenheit 451 as Universal’s first European production, with a hefty budget and name stars. He may have retreated to France, but he didn’t fully give up on somewhat splashier fare that could have been stirred up by major studios enamored with noir and melodrama. In between Fahrenheit 451 and The Bride Wore Black, Truffaut published his landmark book of interviews with Alfred Hitchcock. The Bride Wore Black can be viewed as the afterword, typed out at twenty-four frames per second. Not only is it the sort of dark tale of murder that the Master of Suspense adored (or at least was adept in making into commercially successful art), but Truffaut concentrated on the way his revered predecessor merged a devilishly gleefully bending of the visual conventions of film visuals with a learned command of the mechanics of narrative. If later directors (Brian De Palma chief among them) aped the ways Hitchcock was flashy, Truffaut had the sense to really think about how the man made his movies work.
In the film, Jeanne Moreau plays the titular bride, her face formed in glum determination as she picks off the creators of her misery one by one, often after insinuating herself into their lives. The men she hunts are depicted less as scoundrels and more as callous narcissists, too wrapped up in their own minor issues to even notice the pain they caused or continue to cause. As opposed to most revenge sagas rendered for the screen, The Bride Wore Black never feels simple. It allows for a range of feelings about what’s going on, even stirs them up, in part through highly deliberate filmmaking that can almost lull the viewer into forgetting the heated emotions driving the plot. At times, the film is defiantly uncinematic, caught up in the quiet progression of its plot more than the flaring moments of violence and aggression. In that way, it certainly feels different from the florid intensity Tarantino scrawled into being a few decades later. Maybe he never saw it after all. He should have. He might have learned a thing or two.