Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo in ”La sirène du Mississippi” (1969) | Les Films du Carrosse
The Editorial: thoughts, short stories
or essays about the world of cinema
François Truffaut’s La sirène du Mississippi was dedicated to his two greatest inspirations. The first one was Jean Renoir. The final scene, where Julie (Catherine Deneuve) and Louis (Jean-Paul Belmondo) walk off towards the border and an uncertain future, is just one of the several references to Jean Renoir’s films, and a clear allusion to La grande illusion (1937). “Louis and Marion, like Maréchal and Rosenthal before them, wander off into the snowbound, featureless landscape, their future and destination unknown”, writes Robert Ingram in the book François Truffaut: The Complete Films.
The other homage the French filmmaker paid with this movie was to Alfred Hitchcock. Indeed, Deneuve’s ice, cool blonde look would have been perfect for an Alfred Hitchcock noir or thriller. I like that Mississippi Mermaid is an unusual noir, capturing the dark spirit of classic noir and putting it into a setting that is rotting and tropical, the decaying colonial backdrop of Reunion Island. Although a fan and big proponent of the genre, Truffaut skillfully steered away from the cinematic trappings of the American noir, approaching a new direction. “Johnny Guitar (1954) is not really a true western in the same way that Mississippi Mermaid is not really an action film. My taste leads me to pretend to subscribe to the laws of Hollywood genre films (melodramas, thrillers, comedies, etc.).”
Beautiful and mysterious, hidden behind her opaqueness and inaccessibility, Deneuve’s femme fatale taps into that “paradox between the inner fire and the cool surface” (as Truffaut himself put it) categorization that defined Hitchcock’s blondes. In fact, throughout her entire career, Deneuve has not been afraid of taking complex roles that ruffled and darkened the surface of her beauty.
“Deneuve, with her icy yet mysterious perfection, is the French Grace Kelly,” is how Pauline Kael described her. But Marnie was the Hitchcock film that Catherine reportedly admitted she would have loved to make.
Further reading: Catherine Deneuve’s costumes in “Mississippi Mermaid” / Style in Film: Catherine Deneuve in “Belle de jour”