Mississippi Mermaid (1969)

Mississippi Mermaid is an early Francois Truffaut film, and if it looks familiar–it may be that you’ve seen Original Sin–the Angelina Jolie/Antonio Banderas remake of the film.

Louis Mahe (Jean-Paul Belmondo) plays a wealthy factory owner who lives on the small island, Reunion, near Africa. At the beginning of the film, Louis is eagerly expecting the arrival of his mail-order bride. Photo in hand, he impatiently waits for her to arrive, and when he is confronted with Julie Roussel (Catherine Deneuve) who is NOT the woman in the photo, he happily swallows the story that she sent him a photo of someone else–after all, they both engaged in minor deceits during their courtship by mail, so he overlooks the warning signals and marries her anyway.

Soon, Louis becomes suspicious about his new bride’s real identity, but he continues to elect acceptance. However, when he receives a letter from Julie’s sister demanding to know why she hasn’t heard from Julie, he is forced to confront Julie. Julie promptly cleans out the joint bank account and disappears….

I have never been a fan of Jean-Paul Belmondo’s. However, in this film, his facial expressions were extremely impressive, and I began to see that perhaps I overlooked him in the past. Catherine Deneuve plays a chilling Julie Roussel/Marion Vergano. At the beginning of the film, Deneuve plays the demure Julie, but when the persona of Julie is dumped, and Deneuve assumes the identity of Marion, an ice queen emerges. Whereas Angelina played the Julie/Marion role with sizzling passion, Deneuve is icy, controlling and evil. However, this is the precise reason that it was difficult to understand why Mahe continued to adore Julie/Marion. The partnership from hell theory just doesn’t hold for the on-screen relationship between Mahe and Marion–there wasn’t enough sexual chemistry to explain it. And perhaps it can’t be helped given the age of the film, but Denueve did manage two topless scenes–one of which almost causes a car accident.

The film is dated. The airplane travel scenes are tedious. When it is time for action, the camera just speeds up, and the effect is preposterous. However, Mississippi Mermaid is well worth a look if you are a fan of either French Cinema or Catherine Deneuve.

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Filed under Catherine Deneuve, France

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