Mississippi Mermaid (1969): Deneuve and Belmondo

French director François Truffaut, co-founder of the influential New Wave movement, has mostly made good and excellent films (“400 Blows,” “Jules et Jim”).

At the time of its initial release, “Mississippi Mermaid,” his eighth feature, was considered to be an artistic and commercial flop.
Over the years, however, the film’s stature has grown, largely due to the availability of the original French version, which is longer by 15 minutes than the American one.

Adapted from a story by William Irish, “Mississippi Mermaid,” which co-stars two Gallic icons, Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo (“Breathless”), is film noir in color, revolving around a bizarre, darkly humorous tale of a man who orders a mail-order bride, but receives instead a con woman. The movie combines the conventions of film noir, love on the run, and a road tale.

Belmondo plays Louis Mahe, the owner a tobacco factory on the remote Indian Ocean island of Reunion. His bride, Julie Roussel (Catherine Deneuve), doesn’t look like the photo that she had sent him, but she explains that she had forwarded a picture of a friend instead.
Louis allows Julie access to his personal and business bank accounts, and true to the genre, the femme fatale disappears with his fortune. Heartbroken and bitter, he takes a holiday in South France, and quite improbably spots “Julie” on a TV news story.
When he tracks Julie down, she reveals her double identity and real name, Marion, and how she and her con-man boyfriend, Richard, had intercepted the real Julie on a boat Mississippi that was headed for Reunion.
Richard threw Julie off the ship and Marion assumed her identity, but once the two thieves returned to France, Richard made off with the money. Marion professes that she fell in love with Louis, and he believes her. They try to make a life together in France, but a private detective whom Louis and Julie’s sister, Berthe (Nelly Borgeaud), had hired to find Marion, tracks them down to a house they have rented in Aix en Provence, forcing them to go on the run.

By Truffaut’s standards, it’s a mediocre film that suffers from overly verbose narrative, not enough twists and turns, and lack of secondary characters that are interesting.

However, Belmondo and Deneuve are such charismatic actors that they almost (but not quite) pull it off.

Running time: 123 Minutes.