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Film / Mississippi Mermaid

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Mississipi Mermaid (in French La Sirène du Mississipi) is a 1969 French film directed by François Truffaut and starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Catherine Deneuve and Michel Bouquet. It is based on Waltz into Darkness, a 1947 novel by Cornell Woolrich.

Louis Mahé (Belmondo) is a rich man who lives on Réunion Island. He is the owner of a tobacco plantation. He places a small ad to find his soulmate. After a regular correspondence with Julie Roussel, a woman who lives in New Caledonia, he invites her to come to Réunion Island to get married with him. Louis goes to the port to meet her, but the woman who comes off the boat (Deneuve) does not look like the one on the picture Louis had received. She pretends that she sent the picture of a friend to protect herself. Louis believes her and some time later they get married.

2001's Original Sin is an American remake of this film.

Mississipi Mermaid provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Situation: The true role of Marion in the murder of Julie is left ambiguous, as well as her true feelings for Louis. She claims that Richard killed Julie and forced her to pretend she was Julie, but she might have participated voluntarily in Richard's plan. She also claims that she loves Louis, but she still steals his money as soon as she gets the opportunity (she claims that Richard forced her to do it). In the end, she even tries to poison him. Is it because she is desperate and angry at him or because she realizes that she cannot squeeze money out of him any more? Nevertheless, Louis's friend and partner briefly glimpses "Julie" meeting a man who turns out to be Richard. That scene, where he's smacking her around as she protests, does hint that there's some coercion in their relationship.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Julie's trunk is brought to the house of Louis. It becomes significant later, when Louis opens it and realizes that the woman he lives with is not Julie, because the objects inside could not belong to her.
    • Louis buys a gun to kill Marion, but he does not use it since he forgives her. Some time later, the gun becomes significant because Louis uses it to murder the detective.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: In the sanitarium, Louis watches TV and the program is about the opening of a nightclub where his disappeared wife now works.
  • The Con: Louis is the mark of Marion and Richard, who set up a plan to steal his money.
  • Contrived Coincidence: When Marion disappears, Louis decides to go to Marseilles, thousands of miles away. Where does Marion go? Marseilles, of course. Louis still wouldn't have found her again, though, if he hadn't seen a news story about a local nightclub, which just happens to be where Marion is now working as a taxi dancer.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: When Louis confronts her in a hotel, Marion tells him about his past (she is an orphan, she was in jail...) to justify her acts.
  • Dedication: The film opens with a dedication to Jean Renoir.
  • Disposing of a Body: After the murder of the private investigator, Louis and Marion dig a hole in the cellar to hide the body. Some time later, a flooding reveals the presence of the corpse.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Marion changes tops by the side of the road, and she isn't wearing a bra, so she exposes her breasts. Naturally at that moment another driver zips by. He careens off the road and into a tree.
  • Femme Fatale: Marion. Louis falls in love with her as soon as he meets her, but she tells him that she is Julie Roussel, then she steals his money. Even after he realizes that she manipulated him, he cannot help but giving into her charms.
  • The Film of the Book: The film is adapted from Waltz into Darkness, a 1947 novel by Cornell Woolrich.
  • Foreshadowing: It isn't that hard to guess that "Julie" is an impostor. Not only does she not match the picture he received, the ring he had made for Julie, fitted from a string she sent him, doesn't fit his bride.
  • Gilligan Cut: Louis and Marion have to get a car. He wants to get the gray car, to be more inconspicuous (they are fleeing after killing a man). She says no, she wants the zippy red car. He says "No, Marion, gray." The next scene shows them flying down the road in the zippy red convertible.
  • Gold Digger: Marion. She gets married with Louis under a false identity to steal his money. Whether she did it voluntarily or under pressure of Richard is left ambiguous.
  • Let the Past Burn: Upon discovering that Marion has stolen his entire fortune, some 28 million francs, Louis throws all her lingerie into the fire. Unfortunately for him he doesn't stick to this resolution.
  • Love Martyr: Louis falls in love with Marion. She steals his money. Then Louis discovers that she lied about her identity and that she is complicit in the murder of his ex-fiancée. He still decides to forgive her and to live underground with her. Some time later, he even commits a murder and sacrifices what remained of his fortune to protect her. In the end, Marion tries to poison him, but he still forgives her.
  • Navel-Deep Neckline: Marion and the other dancers of the nightclub wear such costumes. Louis asks Marion to cover herself when he meets her.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Marion and Louis tramping off through the snow on foot, headed to the nearby border, sneaking into Switzerland.
  • Outlaw Couple: After Louis meets Marion again in Antibes and Marion confesses her crimes, he decides to live underground with her. Some time later, he even commits a murder to protect her. Until the end, they are on the run from the law.
  • Private Detective: Louis and Berthe hires a private detective to find back Marion after she disappeared.
  • Run for the Border: After the police raid their flat in Lyon, Louis and Marion try to get to Switzerland to escape from the law.
  • Secretly Wealthy: In his letters, Louis did not tell Julie that he owned the tobacco plantation. Julie inquired and discovered it by herself.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Louis goes to the movie to see Arizona Jim. In The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936), the protagonist writes Western stories named The Adventures of Arizona Jim.
    • Louis and Marion go to the movie to see Johnny Guitar.
    • In the mountain hut, Louis reads La Peau de chagrin by Honoré de Balzac.
  • Spotting the Thread: Louis realizes that the woman he lives with is not Julie when he opens Julie's trunk and finds objects that could not belong to her, like a statuette of the Virgin Mary. Unfortunately, it is already to late.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: In the mountain hut, Marion puts rat poison in Louis's coffee. Louis realizes it.
  • Voiceover Letter: A Voiceover Letter from Julie's sister, wondering why she hasn't heard from Julie and threatening to call the police, is supplemented with her floating head superimposed over the letter as Louis reads it.
  • Zip Me Up: Julie/Marion deliberately unbuttons her dress so she can ask Louis to zip it up as a seduction tactic.

Alternative Title(s): La Sirene Du Mississipi