The Bride Wore Black 1968: Jeanne Moreau… Goddess of the Hunt

It’s Time for the Fall 2022 CMBA Blogathon: Movies are Murder!

I’m very excited to participate in this year’s Fall Blogathon! It’s a killer theme with plenty of great features to warm up to on a chilly November evening. Thank you to CMBA for bringing a lot of class and craft to the blogging community!

La mariee etait en noir de FrancoisTruffaut avec Jeanne Moreau en 1968 — The Bride Wore Black by FrancoisTruffaut with Jeanne Moreau in 1968

“No remorse, no fear … The justice of men is powerless. I’m already dead” -Julie Kohler

A blending of French New Wave, classic Hollywood and Neo-noir, The Bride Wore Black 1968 is François Truffaut’s adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s novel. The film is an homage to the master of suspense Hitchcock, which follows a similar visual journey into unfiltered murder, a pure story of vengeance. Giving an additional nod to the director, the film is scored by Hitchcock’s faithful composer Bernard Herrmann, who also worked on Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966). Herrmann’s familiar dramatic flourishes add yet another bow to the orchestrations that helped bring to life Hitchcock’s evocative atmosphere in his long list of suspenseful movies. Herrmann’s style best described as “Neo-romantic”, straight forward, a simplistic driving rhythm with a ‘neurotic mood’.

Jeanne Moreau’s titular Julia Kohler, is a classical femme fatale who is simultaneously artfully wicked and possessed of graceful beauty.

The film is a fusion of the Hitchcockian canon, a darkly layered tone of humor and sexuality, a sumptuous exploration into revenge, with Truffaut leaning further into the staged beauty of murder and not the morality of it.

Truffaut and Jeanne Moreau on the set of The Bride Wore Black 1968.

Above two images from Jules and Jim 1962- show Jeanne Moreau, Henri Serre and Oskar Werner.

Jeanne Moreau, who gave an astounding performance as the volatile, free-spirited Catherine in Truffaut’s 1962’s Jules et Jim, is inspiring as the essence of the avenging angel Julie Kohler. Her husband is recklessly shot on the steps of the church the day of their wedding by a group of men performing masculinity with guns.

Consumed by grief, Julie vows to take revenge on the five men who killed her husband, making a list and crossing each name off with each kill. Before they are about to die, she reveals that she is the widow of the man they shot. All five men, we come to learn, are very unlikable characters.

At first, Julie is a nameless woman despairing, looking through a photo album. She rushes to the window but is stopped by her mother who prevents her from jumping. She presses on, packing a small wardrobe of black & white clothes into a suitcase and counting a neat pile of money. Is she running away from or running toward something. Herrmann’s score helps to formulate that ambigious message.

From the very beginning we are struck by the sphinx-like Moreau. When she appears again, it is as a spirit in white flowing quills standing still against a gentle wind.

Later showing up to the Cote d’Azur apartment in the same white evening gown, at 10am in the morning, attending an engagement party in honor of a man name Bliss.

Striking a dying to know you pose, Bliss (Claude Rich) and his best friend Corey (Jean-Claude Brialy) take notice of this vision in white. Bliss-“She’s an apparition. Corey-“An apparition who won’t say who she is”. Intrigued, Bliss allows himself to be coaxed out onto the balcony. As he climbs onto the railing to retrieve her wispy white scarf, she tells him who she is, we first learn her name. “I’m Julie Kohler”, as she pushes him off, he falls to his death.

The woman-centered anti-heroine in Julia Kohler moves through the story like an apparition, as if sent by a determining force, an almost supernatural swiftness to set right what was wrong. Moreau’s character has an otherworldly aura to the bride, Patricia Houston notes that “when she turns up to commit her first murder{…} Truffaut is already parting company with Hitchcock. The special quality of The Bride Wore Black, its apparent, floating airiness with which it dreams strange dreams.”

As Jan Dawson comments, “she kills without guilt, but also without any obvious emotion {…} and on the face of her detachment, her multiple murders appear not gruesome, but merely as tidy and efficient stages in a necessary plan.” — “Mariée était en Noir, La (The Bride Wore Black),” Monthly Film Bulletin (September 1968).

The film features vivid scenery of the French Riviera and restrained color by cinematographer Raoul Coutard (Jules et Jim 1962, Band of Outsiders 1964, Alphaville 1965). Amidst this composition, the vision of Julie’s black and white guise, places her on the outside of the colorful world of the men she stalks.

Julie goes on a righteous romantically justified man-hunt dressed in the polarity of black and of white. Black like the shadow of death and a white gown that “flutters in the wind”. (Penelope Houston) The use of black and white symbolic; according to Julie Kirgo, of “Julie’s ongoing virginity, as well as the expanding darkness of her soul.”

Annette Insdorf perceives this symbolism as, ‘in this color film, she wears only black and white; her clothes represent her absolution – the purity of her motives, the darkness of her deeds.” François Truffaut (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)

We see a window into the hunted men’s lives, their relationships, their weaknesses, and their desires. These revelations are shown in a series of evocative sequences. Cunning and cold-blooded, she uses this insight as a way of luring them. Through her victims, and the mechanism of flashback, we learn about Julie, as she reveals to the men, in their dying moments, her true identity and her motivation for killing them.

The sentimental rationalization of Julie Kohler’s punishment seeking quest is a highly stylized arrangement of a choreographed killing spree. The film reveals “the magnetic power of romantic fantasy which is held in tension with a deflating comic irony. Though the power of this femme fatale remains unabated through the film there is a shift in balance between the romanticism and the irony. ” -Sharon Buzzard- Truffaut’s Gorgeous Killers

“in the opening sequence, she is unmistakably playing Marnie: the half-packed suitcase, the neat little piles of bank notes, the doleful parting from mother and sister, and the moment when, having sadly boarded the train on one side, she ducks briskly down on the other and marches back along the platform (Marnie camera angles all around) on her errand of vengeance.” – Penelope Houston, “Hitchcockery,” Sight & Sound

Following the death of her first victim Bliss, the mysterious Julie Kohler shows up at a seedy hotel where she designs to meet a man named Robert Coral (Michel Bouquet). At his dingy, untidy studio apartment, she gathers background information about him from his landlady who is more that willing to relate how shy he is around women. Julie bates the woman – “What he’s looking for is an ideal woman, a woman he can’t find and who exists only in his imagination.” “You’re right. I’ve noticed that whenever the poor man looks at a woman, he gets white as a sheet or red as a lobster.” Armed with this insight, Julie sends him an anonymous theater ticket and he readily shows up that evening. Waiting in the theater box, anticipating his secret date, Julie appears in a black evening gown draped in a white cape, yet another representation of the unearthly aura that surrounds her. He asks her name, but she tells him no and that it’s her secret. Coral is a very lonely soul. The next time they meet, “I shall tell you how, where, when and why.”

Robert Coral (Michel Bouquet) brings her back to his apartment, Coral: “Permit me to make an impossible wish?” Julie: “Why impossible?” Coral: “Because I’m a rather pessimist”. Julie: “I’ve heard it said: There are no optimists or pessimists. There are only happy idiots or unhappy ones”. Coral: “Yes, well. I’m an unhappy idiot then”.

He asks again about her secret, “My thoughts are mine.” Corey, with childlike directness tells her that she’s an impossible dream. A “fairy princess” another allusion to her unreal facade. He begins to sweat and feel unwell. She has poisoned his brandy. “Here’s the secret. You saw me years ago.” In flashback, we see a wedding. “That day I wasn’t wearing black, I was wearing white.” On the steps of the church, celebrating, the groom is shot and falls to the ground. Unmistakably Herrmann, the composer emphasizes musically the blend of theatrical yet ironically understated, frozen moment of tragedy.

Clément Morane (Michael Lonsdale) a married politician with a young son, becomes the third victim. Julie appears, this time in a white suit, faintly sinister, to Morane’s little boy Cookie outside his home. Without telling him her name, she plays a game in order to swipe his little tin whistle she could later give back to him when she returns to the house. She collects information about Cookie’s family, learning that his Grandmother lives somewhere else, a fact she can use later on.

Julie fools his wife, Madame Morane (Sylvine Delannoy), writing a letter that her mother is very ill, getting her out of their middle-class home. Later, Julie arrives posing as Cookie’s teacher Miss Becker, though Cookie insists to his father that she is not her. Julie is invited to stay for dinner, even playing a game of hide and seek, where she discovers a cramped closet set underneath the staircase.

Morane is a political climber and a philanderer. He makes a play for Julie. “Life is like a big race. Someone has to win and someone has to lose”.

Julie pretends to have lost her ring inside the closet, and Morane goes inside to search for it. She locks him in, “I’m David Kohler’s widow, I came here tonight to kill you”. Morane “Let me out of here listen to me please, let me explain how it happened. I’ll explain the whole thing to you”.

In flashback, it is revealed how it led up to the shooting. On her wedding day, the five men are playing cards in a building across the street from the church. Morane takes a rifle down off the wall and loads the gun, aiming it at a weather vane.

He tells Julie that it was an accident, begging her to understand that for bachelors there’s nothing else to do in a small town but hunting and women. After it happened, it would have ruined their lives, so they made the decision to split up and never to see each other again. Julie-“For you it’s in the past but I live through it every night… I never had to dream because David was always there.” For her, David is never coming back, like her love, she is already dead, telling Morane she tracked them down and once her mission is over, she can join him. Morane meets his diabolical fate, locked inside the confined cupboard he is left to suffocate to death.

The police are on the scene, investigating the murder, Cookie, confused by Julie’s insistence that she is Miss Becker, tells the police that his teacher is the one who killed his father. They go to the school and arrest her. When Julie learns from the newspaper that they’ve arrested Miss Becker, she makes an anonymous phone call to the police and tells them that the woman is innocent and that she killed Morane. To prove this, she describes Cookie’s bedroom, and the really cool Mid-Century Modern Econolite steam locomotive motion table lamp. the police let Miss Becker go free.

In a dimly lit scene, the solitary Julie unemotionally confesses to a priest about her hunting expedition, what he calls a  “sinister mission” and tells him “it’s work”. “There is no remorse, no fear”.

Halfway through the film, the momentum of Julie’s plan is hindered first with the wrongful arrest of Miss Becker, and the fourth intended victim Delvaux (Daniel Boulanger) a shady junk car dealer, who is arrested before she can shoot him. He’s sent to prison for selling stolen cars. Delvaux is the most unlikable of the five. He is a vulgar brute, who shown in flashback is actually the one who shot David.

Her final victim is the womanizing skirt-chaser Fergus (Charles Denner), an artist she agrees to model for a series of illustrations depicting Diana the Huntress. While visiting his studio, she sees the painting of a woman with whom she bares a striking resemblance. Perhaps it is the artist’s premonition, but it also ultimately exposes Julie’s true identity.

As Fergus’ muse, Julie wears a similar hair style, coiffed short black framing her face, she borrows the look to appeal to Fergus, who wants to use her for his series of illustrations. He asks her name, she tells him, “call me Diana, that’s all”. Fergus winds up falling in love with her. When she rebuffs his confession of love, he paints the captivating full length nude mural of her on the wall by his bed. Julie in her stark naked repose totally dominates Fergus’ studio.

His friend Corey (Jean-Claude Brialy) who is first seen at the party for the sort of defenestrated Bliss, comes to his studio and is sure he recognizes Julie from somewhere. Eventually he realizes that she is the woman who was at Bliss’ party the day he fell to his death.

Corey is troubled by her presence. The intense gazes rebound off each other. Corey is another reflection of the five men, exposing his contempt of women. “Don’t forget what the Italians say: All women are prostitutes, except my mother. She’s a saint.”

In her ironic incarnation as Diana, Goddess of the hunt complete with a bow and arrow, Julia, uses the prop to murder him. Off camera Julie has already shot Fergus, we find him laying face down on the floor with an arrow piercing his back. Though she cuts out her face on one of the paintings, she fails to blacken out her face on the mural, implicating her in Fergus’ murder. She has left it behind for the police to discover.

At Fergus’ funeral, wearing all black, her face hidden by a veil, Corey exposes her.

THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT: I‘ll take this story to it’s conclusion, in case you do not want the ending to be revealed. Read past the FIN.

At the police station she readily admits her guilt of murdering the four men, but refuses to tell them her motives. They wonder why an intelligent woman would let herself get caught. Perhaps she is still working off her carefully deliberate plan?

Turns out Delvaux, the remaining fifth gunman, is an inmate at the same jail. She is able to finish working her way through the list, while helping the matrons serve food to the other prisoners, Julie takes a butcher knife from the table and places it on the serving cart. Off screen we hear a man scream. Julia finally completes her mission by stabbing Delvaux to death. It is Truffaut/Hitchcock’s way of leaving us with a dark brand of humor, as we hear the wedding march, the camera leading us away from the corridor.

An exquisite, ironic FIN.

And though she winds up imprisoned for the murders, ultimately no man has escaped her fatalistic ascendancy.

Through Moreau’s sophistication, she manifests a goddess like dynamism, with mystic force, as she seduces and kills with style and poise the men who destroyed her chances of eternal happiness with her beloved David (Serge Rousseau), instead the eternal huntress.

Julie is outfitted in a system of two opposing versions of herself. The unrestrained drive to commit murder, and the purity of unfulfilled life and love.

“Here, the sexuality which has lingered in earlier murders emerges as a motif of the bereaved virgin who comes to despise love, but neither warped passion nor the moral puzzle of revenge (A religious confession only spurs Moreau on) develops a thematic core for the film.” – Judith Shatnoff-Film Quaterly 1968

I can easily say that Jeanne Moreau is one of my favorite actors,(as well as Simone Signoret) her liquid sensuality, fluid and provocative expression plunge into the deep well of her far-reaching performances. Including her beautiful killing machine, Julie Kohler.

To many of us, it is apparent that The Bride Wore Black would be the genesis for later female-centered revenge films, and is clearly the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. (2003, 2004) which also highlights a shooting at a wedding, a bride seeking revenge who works her way through a list of victims.

Tarantino who is a crafty treasure hunter of film tributes, uses a highly stylized staging that sends his anti-heroine through her winding journey of inflicting pain. Interesting to note that Tarantino claims he had not seen The Bride Wore Black at the time he shot his revenge saga.

The film inspired Goddess Kate Bush’s song/video The Wedding List 1979:

This is your EverLovin’ Joey coming to you in Black & White and in color!

 

5 thoughts on “The Bride Wore Black 1968: Jeanne Moreau… Goddess of the Hunt

  1. Wow, Joey — French New Wave, neo-noir, Classic Hollywood, Francois Truffaut AND Cornell Woolrich?? What a combination! I’ve only seen Jeanne Moreau in three films, and I definitely consider myself to be a fan. I’m also a big Tarentino fan, so knowing that he may have been inspired by this one is another plus. I really enjoyed your interesting and comprehensive write-up — thank you for contributing it to the blogathon!

    1. It’s got everything! I highly recomment it. Knowing how much you love noir, I suspect this dreamy Hitchcockian Neo-Noir is absolutely your cup of tea! and Moreau is captivating as the modern femme fatale. It’s been a wonderful Blogathon, thanks for letting me come out and play! Cheers, Joey

    1. Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it. Moreau absolutely brings an exquisite presence to the film, that elevates it. Very believable that she is Julie Kohler. So glad you stopped by to The Last Drive In.
      Cheers, Joey

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