Plot: What’s it about?
Francois Truffaut is my favorite director of the French New Wave. His films rank as some of my favorites of all time, especially Jules et Jim and The 400 Blows. Over the past decade, the Criterion Collection have done a terrific job of releasing most of his catalogue with the exception of only a few films. Recently, Twilight Time, a small boutique distribution label, have released three of Truffaut’s films on Blu-ray for the first time- The Bride Wore Black, The Story of Adele H, and Mississippi Mermaid. These are considered by many to be some of Truffaut’s lesser works, and Truffaut (who was notoriously critical of his own films) would probably agree. Personally, I could not resist the urge to purchase these immediately. The first of the three that I sat down to review was Mississippi Mermaid.
The film begins by giving a small history lesson on the French inhabited island of Reunion off the southeastern coast of Africa. This is pretty interesting, as I had no idea that this island existed at all. The film’s story begins on this island, as we meet Mr. Mahe (Jean Paul Belmondo,) owner of a cigarette factory on the island. He is anxiously awaiting the arrival of his mail order bride that has been contacting through letters. As her boat, the Mississippi, unloads passengers she is nowhere to be found. In her stead is Julie (the illustrious Catherine Deneuvre) a beautiful blonde holding a canary in a small cage. Julie explains that she had sent a false photo to Mr. Mahe to make sure he was truly in love with her. He reveals that he has represented himself as the foreman of a cigarette factory when in fact he owns the factory. Even though the relationship begins with deception, they quickly fall in love. Just as quickly he gives her access to his bank accounts and she disappears with all of his millions.
Mississippi Mermaid is a very strange film. Similar to Truffaut’s The Soft Skin and Shoot The Piano Player, the film is a film noir. Unlike those films, it is shot in color, and looks fantastic. Jean Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuvre are very enjoyable in their parts, even though their chemistry as a couple is a bit uneven. I can understand why Truffaut and audiences shrugged the film off somewhat. One issue would be the English title, which is a pretty rough translation of La Sirene du Mississippi, translating Sirens as Mermaids. Also, the film suffers from some pacing issues, needing to lose maybe ten or twelve minutes of footage. That said, I really loved this movie. I honestly liked this movie somewhat more than The Soft Skin and Shoot The Piano Player, in spite of its flaws. Probably the most lasting aspect of the film is its picturesque cinematography and dreamlike quality. It is a really strange film, and the last fifteen minutes alone are worth the price of admission. It might be a bit of a hidden gem, but I do not see myself forgetting it anytime soon.
Video: How’s it look?
Twilight Time did a fantastic job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec. For a limited release of a fifty year old film, the transfer looks very good. There are a few small problems with the transfer, mostly showing up whenever text is overlaid on the film, which can have a bit of a soft look. Considering that these problems are minor and barely register, I would say I was extremely happy with this release. It may not be Criterion collection perfection, but for a limited release for a relatively small fan base, I appreciate all the steps that Twilight Time took. Honestly, this transfer is really good, and the elements they used were in great shape. It is hard to beat Truffaut for beauty on film, and Mississippi Mermaid looks gorgeous. One thing people may find peculiar is that the yellow subtitles at the bottom of the screen are not optional. They are mandatory! This struck me as bizarre, but didn’t bother me, since I am only a novice at speaking French.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The audio treatment of Mississippi Mermaid was incredibly competent. Being a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track, it can be expected that range is severely limited, but Twilight Time delivers on the most important aspect: clarity. Dialogue is extremely clear, and even at the loudest volumes there was no noticeable hiss. The score by Antoine Duhamel is fantastic, borrowing liberally from Bernard Hermann’s style. The only caveat would be that even at high volumes the track is not going to blast out of your speakers, but this didn’t bother me. Great stuff.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary by Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman – This commentary track is a lot looser and more conversational than I was expecting. It is not extremely informative if you are a Truffaut buff, but I still enjoyed the track. It felt more like having a dinner party with two people that like Truffaut as much as I do.
- Theatrical Trailer
- MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer
- Isolated Score Track
The Bottom Line
Mississippi Mermaid is one of aTruffaut’s strangest and, in my opinion, most enjoyable films. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, and during certain scenes the film drags, but by the end of of the film I was totally on board. It’s a weird and wild ride with something strange and interesting around every corner. This film is not in any way attempting realism, and I got caught in its spell. The transfer by Twilight Time is fantastic, and the commentary track is enjoyable. If you love Truffaut, I would not hesitate to add this film to your collection, although Truffaut and some of his fans might disagree with me. Highly Recommended.
Note: On Amazon and other retailers I have seen crazy prices for this disk, but it is still currently available on the Twilight Time website at a great price. These editions are limited to 3,000 prints, so go get yours today!