Truffaut borrows a lot from different directors. A product of his years watching every film that he can see, writing massive amounts of reviews, treatises and interviews of famous directors, he has absorbed and regurgitated these influences on the screen. He is not the only director that is guilty of this and it actually adds to his wonderful ability to create original stories. But sometimes his influences get in the way of him creating something that is truly him and fleshed out. That is what I think happened with Mississippi Mermaid.
About a man who gets a mail order bride sent to him only to betrayed by her and robbed, he then goes on a journey of healing and obsession that results in finding the woman again and running away with her to various places. The different locales, the theme of obsession, and the non-linear storyline all remind me vividly of films like Vertigo and South by Southwest among other Hitchcock films. But there is a reason why Vertigo or South by Southwest stands out as one of the greats and this film is largely forgotten. The characters played by Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant are interesting. They are whole characters that are flawed, obsessed, have interesting quirks and the story line that they thrust upon are based solely on their neuroses. Here Jean Paul Belmondo’s character, Louis Mahe, is flawless except that he loves a woman who is bad for him and therefore he is incredibly boring. Oh and there are no redeeming qualities to the woman he fell in love with. Her only strong attribute or character quirk is that she is obsessed by money. How more obvious can you get with a maneating woman stereotype? It makes me want to throw the DVD out the window when the characters are as flat as they are in this film.
what makes me even more angry is that there is an amazing amount of potential in this film. Truffaut had an insane budget for the film and he shot in such exotic locations as a French dominated island in Africa called Reunion Island (I thought Truffaut was making up the history and the and the name of the island in order to make the film more compelling, but I googled it and it does actually exist and Wikipedia says the back story of the island that appears in the film is true.), Switzerland, and the South of France. He also had two of the best actors working at that time, Jean Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve. Each location falls in its resplendent and each actor just sort of lies there motionless waiting for someone to pull the strings so they can move each limb. I HATED Catherine Deneuve in this film and that is not an emotion I usually have towards an actress or actor, especially an actress that I usually like in the films she is in. She delivers her lines in such a monotone that I can actually hear the money she is counting for taking this role. Ugh. It makes me angry just thinking of her performance.
There are a couple of things that I wished Truffaut would have done in order to improve the film. Instead of the couple saying that they love each other they probably should have shown the affection they said they had. Instead of jumping everywhere in the French dominated world, he should have stayed in Reunion Island. I feel that the island’s possibilities were not explored to their full potential and forcing Deneuve’s character to stay on the island after betraying this rich man for another man would have created tension that would have felt more earned. One final change I would have told Truffaut would have been to beef up the character of Belmondo’s financial advisor. He had a quirk that was not explored enough, in fact Belmondo’s character himself sort of writes it off halfway through the film. But it was a quirk that would have supplied better stretches of dialogue for the script. Instead of giving real advice to Belmondo’s character, he would rattle off facts about the island. It was a unique idea that was way under explored. All of these changes would have made it a different film, but I think that is what it needs to be.
I feel bad for trashing this film so thoroughly, but there is really nothing redeeming about it except for the amazing cinematography. My hopes for Truffaut’s later career are so severely dashed that he can only go up from here. I really hope I like Wild Child…