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Mississippi Mermaid

1 rating: 2.0
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Genre: Drama
Release Date: January 15, 1999
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about Mississippi Mermaid

The bones are here for a nice, nasty tale of self-destructive obsession, but all that true love...

  • Mar 23, 2011
Rating:
+2
"Julie, you are adorable," says Louis Mahe (Jean-Paul Belmondo) to his beautiful new mail-order bride, Julie Rousel (Catherine Deneuve). "Do you know what that means? `Adorable'. It means worthy of adoration."
 
In Mississippi Mermaid, Louis is a wealthy tobacco grower and cigarette manufacturer on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. When Julie arrived on the island, she didn't look like the photograph she had sent him when she agreed to be his wife. She says she was timid and decided to send the photograph of her sister. Louis is enchanted by her beauty and understands her caution. They marry and Louis becomes a husband deeply happy. He tells her she is worthy of adoration just a day or two after he arranges to change his personal and business accounts into joint accounts. That evening, Julie has disappeared, cleaning out both.
 
Louis goes to France, has a breakdown, and then by chance sees Julie in a newscast about a new nightclub and the women there who are hostesses. Louis learns she is really a woman named Marion Vergano. Marion's history would lead only the most obsessed of men to think a happy ending could be in the cards. 
 
Mississippi Mermaid, written and directed by Francois Truffaut, is a movie of Louis' obsession, of sexual psychosis, of parasitic selfishness, of stolen identity and of rat poison, with a lot of self-revealing dialogue (some of it even true) thrown in. As much as I think comparing one director to another is usually pointless, in this case Truffaut may have watched Vertigo, Psycho and Marnie once too often.
 
Still, a murder at the top of the stairs, the star power of Deneuve and Belmondo and some eccentric passing opinions (Louis thinks Johnny Guitar is "a love story, with lots of feeling in it."), all handled with Truffaut's characteristic confidence isn't something to pass by. The downside is that Mississippi Mermaid, despite all of its advantages, at times veers too close to melodramatic parody.
 
"You mustn't cry, my dear. It's your happiness I want, not your tears."
 
"I'm learning what love is, Louis. It's painful. It hurts me." This sounds better in French, but the meaning is just as soppy.
 
Truffaut adapted his movie from the pulp mystery novel, Waltz into Darkness, by Cornell Woolrich writing as William Irish. The movie didn't do too well the first time out, but then underwent a rediscovery of sorts. Unfortunately, that meant articles by people who teach film studies at universities. One such person wrote, "[Mississippi Mermaid] remains a fascinating exploration of the major themes essayed by movie melodramas of betrayal - a sort of distillation of the amoral nucleus of Double Indemnity and the wilder settings of Key Largo."
 
Distillation of the amoral nucleus? I don't even know what an amoral nucleus is. The salient point, for me, is that films such as Double Indemnity and Key Largo are above all else tightly told stories.
 
Truffaut with Mississippi Mermaid started with a nice, nasty, obsessional pulp tale, but then, I think, tried to do too much with it. 
The bones are here for a nice, nasty tale of self-destructive obsession, but all that true love... The bones are here for a nice, nasty tale of self-destructive obsession, but all that true love... The bones are here for a nice, nasty tale of self-destructive obsession, but all that true love... The bones are here for a nice, nasty tale of self-destructive obsession, but all that true love...

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