Mississippi Mermaid (French: La sirène du Mississipi) is a 1969 French romantic drama film directed by François Truffaut and starring Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Adapted from the 1947 novel Waltz into Darkness by Cornell Woolrich, the film is about a tobacco planter on Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean who becomes engaged through correspondence to a woman he does not know. When she arrives it is not the same woman in the photo, but he marries her anyway. Filmed in southern France and Réunion island, Mississippi Mermaid was the 17th highest-grossing film of the year in France with a total of 1,221,027 admissions. It was remade in 2001 as Original Sin, directed by Michael Cristofer and starring Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas.
French theatrical release poster
|Directed by||François Truffaut|
|Written by||François Truffaut|
|Based on||Waltz into Darkness|
by William Irish
|Music by||Antoine Duhamel|
|Edited by||Agnès Guillemot|
Les Films du Carrosse
Produzioni Associate Delphos
|Distributed by||United Artists|
1,227,693 admissions (France)
Louis Mahé (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a wealthy tobacco plantation owner on Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, awaits the arrival of his bride-to-be, Julie Roussel (Catherine Deneuve), whom he has never met. They became acquainted through the personals column of a French newspaper and have been corresponding. At the Hotel Mascarin, he meets his business partner Jardine who accompanies him to pick up the ring. Louis drives to the dock to greet Julie who is arriving on the steamer Mississipi (spelled with one p according to the French spelling of the river at the time) from Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia. When they meet, he is surprised by her beauty and does not recognize her; she is not the woman in the photo that she had sent him. She explains that she sent the photo of a neighbor to ensure his sincerity. He confesses that he too has not told the complete truth, having hidden that he was wealthy.
They quickly marry, and his adoration makes him overlook inconsistencies between her comments and her letters. He gives Julie access to his bank accounts and prints her image on the cigarette packs his company manufactures. After receiving an angry letter from Julie's sister, Berthe Roussel (Nelly Borgeaud), demanding to know Julie's whereabouts, Louis returns home to find that Julie has gone with nearly 28 million francs, all but emptying his bank accounts. Soon after, Berthe arrives and informs him that his wife was not Julie and that she saw her sister board the Mississipi. They hire a private detective, Comolli, to track down the impostor.
On a flight to Nice, France, Louis collapses from exhaustion. While recuperating in the Clinique Heurtebise sanitarium, he sees Julie('s impostor) on television, dancing at a nightclub in Antibes. He buys a gun and travels to Antibes where he breaks into her room at the Hotel Monorail, intent on killing her. When she returns and is confronted by Louis, she offers no resistance. Explaining that her real name is Marion Vergano, she tells him of her sordid past; of her years in prison and association with a heartless gangster, Richard, who was with her on the Mississipi. She recounts that when they met Julie Roussel and learned of her forthcoming marriage, Richard fabricated a plot to kill Julie and send Marion in her place to rob Louis. Afterwards Richard forced her to go through with the robbery and then abandoned her. She tells Louis that she loves him, and Louis forgives her.
They buy a convertible and drive to Aix-en-Provence, where they move into a house and spend their days traveling the region and making love. Their happiness is interrupted by Comolli, who has arrived in Aix on the trail of the impostor. After failing to bribe the detective to drop the case, Louis shoots him dead and buries him in the wine cellar. Louis and Marion flee to Lyon, but she grows dissatisfied with their fugitive existence and longs for a life of luxury in Paris. Louis returns briefly to Réunion and sells his share in the plantation to his partner, Jardine. Upon his return he finds the police on their trail. Again they are forced to flee, leaving most of his money behind.
They head into the mountains where they find an isolated cabin. They hope to cross into Switzerland, but Marion is unhappy with their life on the run. Louis becomes increasingly ill and, after nearly collapsing, suspects that Marion has been poisoning his coffee. He attempts to escape, but Marion brings him back. As she pours him another glass of coffee, he reveals his knowledge of her plan, accepts his fate with no regrets, and expresses his love for her. Ashamed at her actions, Marion knocks the glass from Louis' hand and vows to make amends. She acknowledges that no woman deserves to be so loved, but assures him that she loves him, too, and that they can still go away together. Crying in his arms, Marion tells him, "I'm learning what love is, Louis. It's painful." After Louis regains his strength, they leave in a snowstorm and head toward the border.
In his review in The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote that the film "defies easy definition and blithely triumphs over what initially appears to be structural schizophrenia." Canby noted the performances of Belmondo, Deneuve, and Bouquet, which were "played with marvelous style." Canby concluded:
In Mississippi Mermaid, as in all of Truffaut's films, love leads only to an uncertain future that, at best, may contain some joy along with the inevitable misery. Truffaut's special talent, however, is for communicating a sense of the value of that joy.
In his review in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1999, film critic Edward Guthmann praised the film, writing:
Truffaut tells his story with terrific dispatch, as if he was thrilled by its possibilities and couldn't wait to share his enthusiasm ... the result is a cool combo of film noir, star vehicle and picaresque romance. It's vintage Truffaut, and a great way to get acquainted or reacquainted with one of cinema's true masters.
The film, however, had many detractors. Dennis Schwartz, for example, wrote:
This perverse love story just doesn't fly. The two leads play unsympathetic characters and instead of getting into their character's heads they both play it as a game. It comes off as a disturbing film that seems pointless and has questionable entertainment value. It's one of the few misfires from the talented Truffaut, even with the restored 13 minutes missing from its American release that supposedly makes the film more lucid.
- Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 282
- Box Office information for film at Box Office Story
- "Mississippi Mermaid". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
- "Locations for Mississippi Mermaid". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
- "La Sirène du Mississippi". J.P.'s Box-Office. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2015-08-31.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Allen, Don. Finally Truffaut. New York: Beaufort Books. 1985. ISBN 0-8253-0335-4. OCLC 12613514. pp. 230.
- "The World's Top Twenty Films." Sunday Times [London, England] 27 Sept. 1970: 27. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. accessed 5 Apr. 2014
- Canby, Vincent (April 11, 1970). "Mississippi Mermaid (1969)". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
- Guthmann, Edward (May 14, 1999). "Truffaut's 'Mermaid' Merits Second Look". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
- Schwarz, Dennis. "Mississippi Mermaid". Ozus' World. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
- "Mississippi Mermaid". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
- Further reading
- Baecque, Antoine de; Toubiana, Serge (1999). Truffaut: A Biography. New York: Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-40089-6.
- Bergan, Ronald, ed. (2008). François Truffaut: Interviews. Oxford: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-934110-13-3.
- Holmes, Diana; Ingram, Robert, eds. (1998). François Truffaut (French Film Directors). Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-4553-0.
- Insdorf, Annette (1995). François Truffaut. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-47808-3.