Friday, January 27, 2012


It's perpetual catch-up here at The Evening Class as I chip away at the monolithic backlog created by the disruption to routine caused by last year's move from San Francisco to Boise, Idaho. But, as they say, time waits for no man, especially for a film journalist with more in queue to transcribe than he can barely handle. But every now and then the boy gets a break.

First, film cohort Kurt Halfyard brilliantly tackled transcription duties for our conversation with Robin Hardy, with whom we shared breakfast in Montreal during the 2011 edition of the Fantasia Film Festival where Hardy's latest—The Wicker Tree (2010)—boasted its world premiere. Kurt's transcript "Wolves in Sheep Clothing (Genre as Sartorial Satire): Robin Hardy talks the Legacy of The Wicker Man the Timing of The Wicker Tree, and 40 years of History" is up at my old stomping grounds
Twitch, along with his review of the film. Our conversation with Hardy was certainly one of the highlights of my Fantasia experience, to which I must shout-out to Twitch editor Todd Brown for providing same.

Further, I was spared transcription of the keynote conversation between Robin Hardy and Richard Stanley, thanks to the expert administrations of Svenson Brothers Films who recently posted their recording of same at
Vimeo, along with an introduction by Mitch Davis, Co-Director of Fantasia (replicated here for easy reference):

"The 15th annual Fantasia Film Festival enveloped the city of Montreal in July of 2011. Among its 114-film lineup were gala world premieres of Robin Hardy's long-awaited
The Wicker Tree—a darkly humorous follow-up to his seminal 1974 Pagan masterwork The Wicker Man—and the Grand Guignol omnibus horror film The Theatre Bizarre, featuring segments by Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Tom Savini and Richard Stanley, with flamboyant wraparound material directed by Jeremy Kasten.

"As with Robin Hardy and
The Wicker Tree, Richard Stanley's segment in The Theatre Bizarre, entitled Mother of Toads, marked the filmmaker's return to fiction filmmaking after a years-long absence—in his case, 15 years, in Robin's, a full 22.

"While decades apart in age, both filmmakers share numerous distinctive qualities. An astute understanding of the occult, an encyclopedic knowledge of history and religion and a profoundly biting ability for dark satire and ironic poetry. Both are also master raconteurs, captivating speakers who can have any crowd hanging on their every word. Their films, usually made years apart from one to the other, are wholly singular visions, unique, unconventional and uncompromising works that challenge, amuse and startle. A conversation with either is no different, let alone one held
between them.

"To celebrate the dual return to filmmaking from two of Great Britain's most inspired genre minds, Fantasia held a one-hour event that saw Hardy and Stanley sit down for a fascinating discussion of faith, filmmaking and the occult. The event was held on the 20th of July, 2011.

"What you will see here is the first 30-minutes of this conversation. Note: the event was shot with a 2-camera setup, but has yet to be fully edited. As we wanted to get this video online in time for the US theatrical releases of both
The Wicker Tree and The Theatre Bizarre (which, as fate would have it, are opening against each other on the same forthcoming weekend!), we are presenting the raw footage from Camera One (Eric S. Boisvert), which framed the entire event in a master shot. In other words, expect to see a later version of this with close-ups. Enjoy, and blessed be."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

SFFS CINEMA: Ryan Lattanzio Reviews SLEEPING BEAUTY (2011)

Ryan Lattanzio has been writing about movies since 2009 for publications like The Daily Californian (where he has served as their lead film critic), the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the SF Appeal. It's with great pleasure that we announce his internship with The Evening Class. A fourth-year English major, Ryan is currently in the trenches of his final semester at UC Berkeley. When he's not panicking about his imminent graduation this May—a day he calls "the execution date"—Ryan is working on a senior thesis project on the modern horror film. If he had to describe himself in three words, they would be: cinephile, oenophile and X-Phile. A lover of art cinema and midnight movies, Ryan has a special place in his heart for films about hysterical, repressed women descending into erotic underworlds. For this reason, Sleeping Beauty is exactly his kind of film and he does The Evening Class honors by offering his perspective. Sleeping Beauty plays January 27 - February 2 at SF Film Society Cinema (1746 Post Street).

* * *

Sleeping Beauty [official site / Facebook] is a surreal film about a young woman's descent into an erotic underworld. It has been endorsed by Jane Campion, a filmmaker who has made female sexuality her thesis statement. This information alone is probably enough to alienate certain camps, but the intrepid and curious will find much to savor in Australian writer / director Julia Leigh's debut feature, a cinematic striptease that is Buñuel-lite and Breillat-done-right.

With the stiffness of a Victorian
femme-hysterique and the froth of a liberated Modern Woman, 23-year-old Aussie Emily Browning plays Lucy, a college-aged woman who spends her extra-curricular hours working a sterile office job where all she ever seems to do is make photocopies. In the film's first scene, set in an all-white laboratory, Lucy participates in the sort of dubious paid survey you'd find posted on Craigslist. A dapper young medical student has Lucy swallow a long tube that fills with air pressure. As this abstruse apparatus is fed down her throat, Lucy gags but remains calm and poised, preserving an emotional ambivalence on her face. Right from the get-go, Julia Leigh's film establishes the kind of degrading (albeit chic) wringer through which Lucy will be wrung.

Strapped for cash and unable to pay her rent, Lucy responds to a classified ad in the student paper. Over the phone, she describes herself as "slim" and "pert." In an anonymous, lavishly decorated room, she meets with Clara (Rachael Blake). We understand that Lucy will become some sort of prostitute. Details are elided, but Clara assures Lucy that her vagina will not be penetrated. "My vagina is not a temple," Lucy says. Leigh's screenplay is filled with these kinds of quippy epigrams that recall the dialogue of Lars von Trier, as when Justine of
Melancholia (2011) says "The Earth is evil, we don’t need to grieve for it," or She in Antichrist (2009) tells her husband, "Nature is Satan's church." I especially like when Lucy tells her roommate, "There's no virtue in being born." No doubt, both Leigh and Browning know the work of Lars von Trier, as they eagerly plumb the bottomless depths of female sexuality and its darkness. Clara tells Lucy that there will be "heavy penalties" for any breaches of trust. This is one of many red herrings hatched by Leigh. We think the film could go one way, that the drama of Sleeping Beauty could be something about these mysterious "penalties," but it always goes the other way. Lucy is no heart-of-gold hooker. She's not even conscious during her assignments. Clara puts her to sleep with a nondescript potion so that Lucy slumbers while a queue of wealthy, geriatric men essentially do whatever they want to her (except penetrate). Lucy grows increasingly curious about what goes on while she sleeps, and this curiosity is what engenders the film's dramatic payoff. Like Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl (2001), Sleeping Beauty takes on an abrupt shift of tone in its final moments. Always willing to be dosed with libations she can't identify, Lucy takes drugs from a friend, and her world changes.

For her first day on the job, Lucy stands scantly clad for a dinner party of old, rich guys. As her co-cavorters serve wine and caviar, a cavalcade of contortioned naked bodies surrounds the men. Lucy is not prepared for the sadist maneuvers her clients will employ. This scene's orgiastic politics brings to mind Stanley Kubrick's
Eyes Wide Shut (1999), another film about psychosexual netherworlds. Throughout Sleeping Beauty, Leigh will continue to invoke the master's sense of form in her clinical, starkly realized mise-en-scène, recalling the quiet architecture in the last sequence of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Perfectionist symmetry informs each shot, as crisp and tightly made as a hotel bed. Every frame contains the inhuman cleanliness of a hospital, or the burlesque kitsch of a life-sized dollhouse of the depraved. Leigh's austere aesthetic affords suffocating thematic nihilism, a rejection of traditional hermeneutic codes that is hard to swallow, so to speak. Yet unlike Steve McQueen's Shame, another 2011 release about sad sex, these blank narrative spaces brim with titillating question marks rather than the broad strokes of browbeating moralism.

Lucy also has an oblique relationship with a handsome guy she calls Birdman (Ewen Leslie), a depressed alcoholic in whom she appears to find her only pleasure. In one of the film's most farcical moments, she brings him a bottle of vodka and pours it over his cereal. In the grand scheme of
Sleeping Beauty, it's unclear what this all means, but such a scene elevates the film to the level of curious oddity. Julia Leigh has a sense of humor, and what a relief for a film whose challenges could easily be construed as emptiness; hers is a Beauty full of ideas.

On the surface, Leigh's film has little to do with Charles Perrault's late-17th-century fairytale "La Belle au bois dormant". But this is a kind of postmodern fairytale iteration. Browning as the titular
belle de jour possesses a certain idealism, and even an ignorance, that is awakened in the film's last act. Like its folkloric forebear, Sleeping Beauty toys with the lore of popular mythology. Here it is an unstable, antiseptic view of sex in an age where detachment and irony are the fashion, and visceral human connection is paltry and even derided. And like Perrault's tale, there is a kind of awakening-by-kiss in this film, though it is something quite unorthodox and uneasy.
Leigh is not the least bit shy about making the human body the subject of her uncanny gaze. Often we see the wan Emily Browning completely naked. As a scavenger of sick cinema, little these days seems to shock me, but I was, in fact, shocked when I saw Browning's barely nubile flesh get plucked by her carnivorous clients. For a film that is so coy about its ideas—enough to blue-ball even the hardiest minimalist—Leigh is not the least bit coy in her expression. Unheard of in most American films, there's a lot of deeply unsexy male nudity here. You have to applaud any film willing to show sex for what it really is.

For a young actress, Browning displays uncommon derring-do. She maintains her icy indifference and whitewashed poker face through every shot—she's in nearly all of them—and Leigh does not simply degrade her for degradation's sake: at all times, Lucy is a woman in control of her own destiny. Like the misunderstood heroines of von Trier and Dreyer, she has the power. She relinquishes that power in the form of sex, but it is sex for which she need not be conscious. This aspect of
Sleeping Beauty is difficult to metabolize, as the film seems to have trouble metabolizing its own fetishes. It's tough to talk about a film like Sleeping Beauty, which insists on Ambiguity in favor of easy exposition. But this is the right kind of Ambiguity. Rather than a cover-up for inane, undercooked ideas—or lack thereof—it fashions the film a most tantalizing mystery, one that lingers beyond the end credits, even if I don't know exactly what it is that's haunting me. Photos courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

NOIR CITY X: THE KILLERS (1964)—Movie Poster Gallery



It's clearly time to start brushing up on Angie Dickinson's career in anticipation of her on-stage appearance with the "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller at the upcoming 10th edition of Noir City where 35mm prints of two of Dickinson's finest—The Killers (1964) and Point Blank (1967)—will be screened at the world's most popular film noir festival. Where best to start than with David Thomson's entry in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, wherein he pointedly quips that one thousand words of analysis won't carry more weight than a well-chosen still. Good advice from an ardent admirer.

Thomson likewise wrote a piece on Angie for
GQ magazine back in October 2005 profiling Dickinson's career, confirming once and for all that it isn't just Nicole Kidman he has a "thing" for. ‎"It wasn't that I necessarily thought she was a great actress," Thomson writes in his GQ piece, "just my favorite. You see, I had this notion that, as the years went by and you saw most of the movies that came along, you could enjoy the difference between someone who was plainly a Great Actress and someone you were simply glad to see, a woman you thought of as a pal—always effective, a reliable doll." His overview ends up being, admittedly, "not an essay on celebrity, so much as a reflection on fondness and how it can last." Thomson concludes: "No, she wasn't the greatest actress ever, just my favorite—which means that for a certain kind of movie dream, in the role of a woman as brave as she is gorgeous, as smart as she is funny, I never saw anyone better." (GQ, October 2005, pp. 126-134.)

Of the two films screening at Noir City X, Thomson situates them within "a trio of terrific performances from the mid-Sixties", which includes The Chase (1966). Angie plays "the treacherous romantic lead in
The Killers, a film where she is torn between John Cassavetes and Ronald Reagan, and in which Reagan slaps her in the face very hard." In the "extraordinary" Point Blank, Angie "is the ambivalent woman who elects to help Lee Marvin in his implacable attempt to recover $93,000 from the Mob. There are scenes in that film where she offers herself as bait to the villainous John Vernon that are hauntingly sexy. There's also a scene where she beats on the impassive Marvin and collapses in frustration as he hardly notices her."

Then, of course, there is—perhaps—the "definitive" overview: Sam Kashner's piece for Vanity Fair ("A Legend With Legs"). If that isn't enough for you, revisit Dennis Cozzalio's April 2006 Angie Dickinson blogathon at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.

But enough words. Time to follow Thomson's advice.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

TIFF 2011 / PSIFF 2012: MICHAEL (2011)—The Evening Class Interview With Markus Schleinzer

Austrian filmmaker Markus Schleinzer's truly disturbing directorial debut Michael (2011)—not to be confused with Ribhu Dasgupta's Hindi feature of the same name (also released in 2011)—exerts a morbid fascination on the viewer, compelling attention to its unpleasant yet undeniably suspenseful narrative of a pederast (Michael Fuith) who keeps a 10-year-old boy imprisoned in his cellar. Not for the righteous and hardly for anybody else, Michael nonetheless deserves its audience and ranks with Baran bo Odar's The Silence (Das letzte Schweigen, 2010) as a memorable examination of the dark suffering of the perverse soul. Despite its provocative subject and the mixed critical reaction when the film premiered at Cannes, Michael was nominated for a European Film Award and indieWIRE recently included Schleinzer as one of the 40 New Faces of Indie Film in 2011, affirming "there's no doubt that Schleinzer has established himself." Likewise at indieWIRE, Eric Kohn praised the film as "a triumph of uneasy cinema."

I caught
Michael at its North American premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) where several of my colleagues with children of their own made it adamantly clear to me that they refused to watch this film and were somewhat surprised by my intention to do so. Judging by their reactions, Schleinzer was more offensive than brave for broaching such an unseemly subject. In some ways, Michael could be classified as the same kind of crime horror film as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), which likewise left me put off and disturbed. So many movies claim to stare into the heart of evil—and usually do so through stylized effects that help to distance the spectator from the film—but, Michael downplays the shock and spectacle to achieve a naturalistic and amazingly non-judgmental document that feels all the more uncomfortable for leaving no room to hide behind more customary genre conventions. I wasn't sure at all if Michael would traffic after TIFF, but it appears to be gaining traction, and has been scheduled in the World Cinema sidebar at the upcoming Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF), where I predict some outraged walkouts.

My thanks to Marcus Hu of Strand Releasing for arranging time for me to sit down at TIFF with Schleinzer to wrestle with the controversy of his film. Schleinzer carries the stigmatization of that controversy squarely on his shoulders and it was a delight to find him so pleasant and well-spoken. Unfortunately, due to a technical issue with my recorder, our recorded conversation was corrupted and I was only able to save the first half of our conversation. Hopefully, down the line, Schleinzer and I will have the opportunity to complete this discussion. Until then, I offer what I have.

* * *

Michael Guillén: Markus, as you can imagine I was profoundly challenged and disturbed by your film and wanted to have the chance to speak with you. It's my understanding that you are primarily an actor but have served as a casting director for some of the films of Michael Haneke, notably The White Ribbon (2009). What motivated you to approach directing and to start off with such a difficult subject?

Markus Schleinzer: It's actually the other way around. I've been a casting director for 17 years and sometimes—when I've been asked—I've played some parts in movies. During my work as a casting director, I have often been told by other directors to think about doing a movie myself. When Haneke and I were working on The White Ribbon, he was the one who said, "It's time. Go and make your own movie."

This was at the end of 2008 and—at that period of time—you couldn't pick up a newspaper or watch television without facing the issue of child abuse. It was everywhere. We had this huge case in Austria regarding Natascha Kampusch, you have probably heard of her? Then there was this big case as well about Josef Fritzl who kept an entire family in his cellar for 26 years. There had been an infamous incident in America as well, so the phenomenon was world-wide.

What disturbed me the most, at least in Austria and Europe, was that this issue was handled so sensationally by the press. I couldn't find another view. This was when I sat down and thought about what this different view on the subject, on this issue, might look like. How could one do a movie about such a subject without being provocative or scandalous or trying to earn quick money off the issue?

Guillén: So the media coverage inspired you to write a script that would present this issue from a less salacious perspective....

Schleinzer: It took me five days to write the script.

Guillén: Five days? So it had clearly been playing in your mind? How difficult was it, then, to sell this script and to secure the financing to film the story?

Schleinzer: It was not difficult at all, otherwise I would not have done it. The story was easily sold and we got all the money we needed immediately. There were no problems at all.

Guillén: Michael strikes me as a contemporary horror film presented as almost a documentary. As you went into production, I'm curious how you negotiated casting and working with your child actor David Rauchenberger? How did you explain to him what would be required of him in the role? How much of a context were you required to provide him in order for him to participate in such a grisly narrative?

Schleinzer: With the child it was very important from the beginning to be as honest with him as possible and not to hide anything. That started in the casting process. I brought a short synopsis with me when I started the casting process, in which I didn't hide anything at all. It wasn't the whole script, of course—it was just 10-15 sentences—but, it laid out the whole story. I didn't want the parents of children coming to the casting not knowing what the story was going to be about. I couldn't make a movie about child abuse and then abuse the people involved by not letting them know in advance what the movie was about, what would be shown and what would not be shown. We had four or five casting rounds from a pool of about 700-750 children. With every round I gave more and more and more information. By the last round there were still four boys I was considering and who interested me and I met with all their parents and gave them the complete script. I told them to take the script home, to read it thoroughly, and then we would meet again to discuss it. Finally, with David's parents, I explained again what would be seen, what would not be seen, and we drafted up a contract. Even after the movie was completed, I showed the footage to David's parents and asked them, "Is there anything you want me to cut out?"

I dealt the same way with David himself, speaking honestly to him about the film's issue of child abuse, and I have to say that his generation has a certain gift that our generation did not. David was 10 when we shot the movie, he's now 11, but when he was 9 there was a psychiatrist who came to his school and attended his class and taught the children not to go with the man who said,"I have a puppet in my car. Would you like to touch it?" So children of David's generation are already aware of certain dangers, which I knew nothing about as a child. When I was 10, I was told that adults were in complete control and to never doubt them. I would have gone with anyone.

I think it's possible to tell the truth on one hand and on the other hand to watch your language as you tell the truth. I have to say, I often felt ashamed talking to David about certain parts of the story, but—on the other hand—I think it's best for adults to be open-hearted and open-minded with children. Just because a parent is ashamed to talk about certain issues doesn't mean they disappear.

Guillén: Since you clearly have a talent for casting, what were the qualities you were looking for in your actors when you were seeking to cast not only the role of the boy but the leading role of Michael, the pederast, to achieve the dynamic you were hoping for in this film?

Schleinzer: That wasn't easy with the boy but with the adult role it was clear to me that I wanted a complete unknown actor, which is easy world-wide; but, I wanted to focus first, of course, on Austrian talent. I was shocked when the film was chosen for Cannes because I had thought of it as a small Austrian movie which
might gain some following in Austria. So my thought was to use an unknown Austrian actor. Of course the people financing the film wanted me to use a known actor like Christoph Waltz so they could sell the movie better; but, I doubted that strategy because I knew that putting a star in this role meant the character would have more of a possibility for salvation, which isn't what I wanted. If people saw Christoph Waltz in this role, they would recognize him from his character in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, they would know him already as a person, and could thus draw a certain distance from the role in this film.

I'm very glad that I found Michael Fuith. At first, I wrote the script and then became depressed because I didn't know who to ask to play the role. But by a lucky chance, I was on a jury for the Austrian Filmmaking University and I had to watch about 80 short films and Fuith was in two of them. He hadn't acted before and these were his first feature parts. I thought he was perfect so I gave him the script, he read it, and then he called me and said, "I don't want to do it."

Guillén: Understandable. It would take a courageous actor to take on such a role.

Schleinzer: Yes, it demands a courageous actor. So then I said, "Okay, what's it going to take?" He asked for two more weeks to think about it and then he decided to do it.

Portrait of Markus Schleinzer courtesy of Viktor Bradzil, NGF.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

THE BRIDE WORE BLACK / LA MARIÉE ÉTAIT EN NOIR (1968)—On-stage Conversation With Laura Truffaut and Eddie Muller

"For to kill is the great law set by nature in the heart of existence! There is nothing more beautiful and honorable than killing!"—Guy de Maupassant.

MUBI, Adrian Curry has curated a stunning gallery of posters for François Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black (La mariée était en noir, 1968) on the occasion of the film's re-release at New York's Film Forum. Also at MUBI, Daniel Kasman offers an object lesson in visual acuity by astutely comparing an Econolite train motion lamp (with "General" engine) as it appears in both The Bride Wore Black and Wim Wender's The American Friend (1977). Then, of course, David Hudson has rounded up a few key reviews from the Forum run, most notably my San Francisco Film Critics Circle colleague Fernando Croce's burnished piece for Slant.

Here on the West Coast, The Bride Wore Black showed up in the Pacific Film Archive's Enduring Allure retrospective of the films of Jeanne Moreau, which is where I caught up with Truffaut's adaptation of Cornell Woolrich's 1940 novel. PFA characterized
The Bride Wore Black as Truffaut's alleged homage to Alfred Hitchcock "treated in the manner of Renoir." The San Francisco Film Society followed suit less than a week later with a brief run of a new 35mm print of The Bride Wore Black at New People Cinema, where I attended their first screening on Friday, December 16, 2011, specifically to hear Eddie Muller engage Laura Truffaut in an onstage conversation before her father's film.

Laura Truffaut, who has lived in the Bay Area for 30+ years, has now and again offered distinct insight into her father's films at various Bay Area presentations. I heard her introduce Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959) at PFA in January 2008, and L'Enfant Sauvage (The Wild Child, 1970) at a Landmark screening in March 2009, and so I welcomed the opportunity to hear her a third time, which I knew would be a charm.

By way of introduction, Muller had mentioned earlier to Laura Truffaut that her father's book on Hitchcock was the very first film book he ever owned and read. As a kid, he had mentioned that he really liked Hitchcock's movies and a family friend gifted him the book, thereby changing his life. Shortly thereafter, he saw François Truffaut's La Nuit Américaine (Day For Night, 1973) and—smitten by the romance for moviemaking in that film—the die was cast. He said to himself, "That's the life for me. It has to somehow involve the movies."

Inviting Truffaut to the stage, Muller prefaced their conversation by confirming that he considers
The Bride Wore Black to be a film noir, partly because it was based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich who, as a writer, was one of the key figures in the development of noir as literature in the United States. Woolrich's books translated very well to France, many of them appearing in the Série noire that was, in turn, influential on the French New Wave. Certain themes in Woolrich's work—i.e., the cruel indifference of fate—appealed to a French sensibility.

Not only that, Truffaut agreed, but Woolrich's themes of shifting personality, of one person turning out to be someone else, was an equally influential theme. Perhaps not as present in
The Bride Wore Black as in La sirène du Mississipi (Mississippi Mermaid, 1969), another Woolrich adaptation of her father's made shortly after The Bride Wore Black.

Muller suggested that—by the time the film was made in 1968—a lot of people perceived it as a somewhat revisionist take on Woolrich's novel because it focused on the femme fatale figure as the protagonist. What Truffaut did with the character of Julie Kohler (Moreau) and his depiction of the men in the film who become her victims was markedly different than how Woolrich treated these characters in his novel. However, Truffaut stuck close to the structure of the book, replicating the novel's five episodes. Truffaut's adaptation
was about the cruel indifference of fate, a protagonist bent on self-destruction, and encouraged the audience to empathize with a person who was doing something very wrong, who knew she was doing something wrong, but who went ahead and did it anyway. For Muller, those are three essentials for a film noir.

Though in the case of her father's film, Truffaut differentiated—unsure if this would apply generally to film noir—that there was also an attempt not to psychologize at all. There was something quite stylized about the story. Likening it a bit to a dark fairytale, Truffaut explained her father's challenge was indeed to gain the audience's empathy for Julie Kohler, but also to keep them involved and interested in the linear logic of the story, a creative challenge that was of considerable interest to her father. Later in his career in the late '70s he went on to film L'Histoire d'Adèle H (The Story of Adele H, 1975), L'Homme qui aimait les femmes (The Man Who Loved Women, 1977) and La chambre verte (The Green Room, 1978), wherein he focused on stories where the main characters follow an implacable logic. It remained a challenge for him to keep the audience interested in one character in a narrative limited by directions in which the story could go. He thought about it in musical terms: to follow a line, what he called an "ascending straight line." Not all of his movies were following that pattern, but
The Bride Wore Black was probably the first film where he started doing that.

One way he addressed this challenge was to rely on strong acting. Her father had loved working with Jeanne Moreau on Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim, 1962) and he knew that having her as the central character in
The Bride Wore Black would carry the movie; but, he also knew that the actors who played the men she encountered had to be equally good and compellingly hold their own. He found a number of them in the theater, which he attended frequently, often casting for actors for his films. A number of the actors in The Bride Wore Black subsequently appeared in his later movies.

The one character he was, perhaps, most attached to in
The Bride Wore Black was Fergus, the artist, played by Charles Denner. She was seven when her father made this movie and it was the first film of his she was allowed to see in the theaters when it opened. She recalled her father sometimes liked to work on Sunday mornings going over dailies with his editor at a nearby screening room and he would let her and her sister come with him. There were scenes from the movie that she had easily seen 10 times over before the movie was finished, including a scene or two that were eventually cut, but which she recalled vividly; scenes that involved the character Fergus. Her father probably decided the scenes were too long and would throw off the balance of the film, so they were deleted; but, 10 years later, he revisited a similar character and used the same actor in The Man Who Loved Women. So The Bride Wore Black is both an adaptation of a novel but also something very personal for her father that he was able to return to later on in subsequent films.

It was Muller's understanding that François Truffaut was dissatisfied with the finished film and Laura confirmed her father had difficulty with the color. It was only his second time to use color in a film. His first films were all small budget black and white New Wave movies and then he went to England to make Farenheit 451 (1966), which was a British production with a lot more money that required color for many reasons. When he came back to France to do
The Bride Wore Black, it became clear the film was also going to be in color. Later on as her father progressed in his career, he laid down rules for himself, including how to use color—how to use color in his period movies and how to use color in his more contemporary pieces—but, at the time of The Bride Wore Black, he hadn't quite figured it out. She suspects it was frustrating for him to figure out how to create atmosphere with color. If you think of what are considered to be the great adaptations of Cornell Woolrich, they're primarily in black and white. Femme fatales seem to be more fatale in black and white. That could have been an issue creating tension. For her, The Bride Wore Black is visually distinct from her father's other movies, probably because of those issues.

It was also Muller's understanding that her father had creative differences with his cinematographer Raoul Coutard who was working at the same time with Godard? In that regard, one of her father's challenges was that the protagonist was supposed to be traveling between one man and the other, as the story moves forward, but unfortunately for budgetary reasons most of the film had to be filmed in one geographic area. So her father and Coutard had to modify the storyline visually, made all the more trickier by the movie being in color, and create the illusion of different landscapes. There was definitely differences of opinion and approach between Coutard and her father.

Muller noted that
The Bride Wore Black was the first Woolrich novel written in what is considered his "black period." Woolrich was a fascinating man. He was a closeted homosexual who lived at the Hotel Marseilles in New York with his mother virtually his whole life and he had absolutely no real experience of the outside world. He was the most socially inept human being imaginable. Despite Woolrich's extraordinary imagination, Muller couldn't imagine a person less like François Truffaut than Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich started writing his noir novels cooped up in his hotel room with The Bride Wore Black being the first of a series. Its structure was extraordinary innovative. Woolrich didn't reveal the motivations of the protagonist until the very end of the book so the reader was going through this whole story—as audiences did with the film—wondering why Julie Kohler was doing what she was doing.

Truffaut thinks her father decided to move it up a little bit, partly influenced by Hitchcock's understanding of how to manipulate audiences with suspense. When do you bring a flashback into a movie like
The Bride Wore Black? A flashback or two was going to be necessary so her father gave much thought to when he would bring them in. Her father eventually agreed that Hitchcock's precept of letting the audience "in on it" early on actually created more suspense than a big revelation at the end. Another Hitchcock touch was that you never saw Jeanne Moreau's character knock on a door or enter a room. A couple of times in the movie she's suddenly just there, without explanation. Truffaut was fairly certain her father stole that from the character of Mrs. Danvers in Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940). Hitchcock made a point of not letting the audience hear Mrs. Danvers' footsteps so that they would be as startled as the protagonist Joan Fontaine when she lifted her glance and Mrs. Danvers was standing there observing her. Obviously, for the character of Mrs. Danvers, this was meant to be spooky. With Julie Kohler, it's meant to be more magical perhaps? She's suddenly in the middle of the scene and there isn't a whole lot of logic to it; the audience needs to accept it as a given.

Muller agreed that her father brought an element of magical realism to the film that compensated for a huge flaw in the original novel, which—not to spoil the plot—but you
do wonder at one point how she knows who these men are? That's a crucial point in the story that's never explained. The way her father presented this as a given in the film eliminated the incongruency from the audience's mind. Julie just appears, almost like a supernatural force. There's no realism involved in it.

Muller asked Truffaut if she had ever met Hitchcock as a child? She hadn't. He wondered because—she may not have noticed as a young girl—but the relationship Hitchcock and her father shared was an intense bond between their two artistries. It fascinated Muller that—while her dad was making this film—his closest confidante was really Hitchcock, who was included in all the correspondence. Her dad was asking him questions all the time. She did attend Hitchcock's funeral under a peculiar set of circumstances.

Truffaut wanted to point out the unsung actor Serge Rousseau who plays David the groom (who the audience sees for only 10 seconds). He was one of her father's best friends. He was a casting agent, an actors' agent, and often played crucial small roles in her father's movies. Rousseau was actually an excellent actor who had given up on acting himself. He played the character at the end of Baisers volés (Stolen Kisses, 1968) who the audience has seen follow Claude Jade throughout the movie. At the very end he comes up to her sitting on the park bench and declares his love and proposes. He tells her, "Every other relationship is temporary but with me it will be forever." In
The Green Room he plays the nemesis of the hero. We only see him in photographs but we hear his name mentioned constantly. So Rousseau played a big role in her father's life by pointing out to him interesting young actors who Truffaut would then watch perform in the theater and often hire for his films.

There was a story behind the name of the protagonist: Julie Kohler. Julie is a name that her father was fond of, though she never found out why. Kohler was a brand of chocolate that her father liked a lot as a child. He liked that name so much that he used it again in Tirez sur le pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player, 1960) where he named his protagonist Charlie Kohler. Of course, Kohler is also a homonym for
colère, which means anger.

Everything Muller has read on this film indicates that it was made at a difficult time in her father's life, which undoubtedly colors his conflicted recollections of the film itself; but, Muller finds the film extraordinary. He's reached a point where he thinks of film noir in thematic terms and for him
The Bride Wore Black is a classic thematic example of a film noir. He's impressed with her father's sensitivity to these types of stories, to the work of American writers like Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis (whose novel Down There Truffaut adapted into Shoot the Piano Player, "another classic noir"). The American narrative style tended to be tough, hard-edged and coldhearted; but, her father wasn't like that at all. No one would ever say that François Truffaut was a coldhearted filmmaker. Quite the opposite. He was probably the most humanistic filmmaker of his era. To see him adapt these kinds of stories made them doubly fascinating.

Laura Truffaut concluded by recalling that her father was keen on quoting Jean Renoir: every man has his reasons, which applies to any character in a movie. Muller identified the quote from La Règle du jeu (Rules of the Game, 1939) where, more to the point, the full quote specifies that "the most
terrifying thing is that every man has his reasons."

Of related interest: John Goodman's interview with Laura Truffaut for the North Shore News.