Girl on the Bridge
1999, R, 92 min. Directed by Patrice Leconte. Starring Daniel Auteuil, Vanessa Paradis, Claude Aufaure, Bertie Cortez, Giorgios Gatzios.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 13, 2000
Girl on the Bridge is a film about luck and love and hurling weighted, razor-sharp knives at sexy, waifish women with big round eyes. It's so French it doesn't even need the subtitles that bop around on the bottom of the screen and detract from the images. If you have any experience whatsoever with previous French cinema works -- from Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's City of Lost Children to Godard's Breathless to Alain Resnais to Bresson to Truffaut -- then Leconte's film is going to feel like a much-needed, flaky-warm croissant in the morning. Like that diaphanous, doughy crescent, it's a fleeting, delicious treat, gone before you know it, and it lingers on the palette like the warm memory of love. There are no great shocks in Girl on the Bridge, no masterful turnarounds of style or technique, nothing that leaps out at you and shouts, “This is new! This is amazing!” and yet the film is new and amazing -- it takes you back to the days when French filmmaking and French filmmakers were the darlings and saviors of the cinematic cutting edge. It's a great film, simply told, and a pleasure to watch (in gorgeous, radiant black-and-white), a love poem to the elusive nature of love (and filmmaking) itself. It makes you shiver sometimes, and not because the theatre's chilly. Paradis, an actress with eyes roughly the shape and size of those of Bambi's mother, plays Adele, the girl on the bridge, working up the nerve to let go of the railing and slip forever into the murky Seine. Before she can do it (well, almost), she's approached by Gabor, a middle-aged knife-thrower in search of a new target, who convinces her to come with him to the Riviera and begin life anew. “I'm like a vacuum cleaner,” says Adele, “I suck up the dirt everyone else leaves behind.” She's referring to her penchant for anytime/anywhere emotional neediness, and it's no joke. Before we're 15 minutes into the film, she's eyed half a dozen prospective partners. Like the world-weary Gabor, her psychic baggage requires a special Pullman car to carry it; unlike him, she's still, ostensibly, a child. Outfitting her with a new, showbiz wardrobe, she shakes her bottom at him teasingly, and cranes her long, swanlike neck to catch his flustered eye. She's like a little girl showing off for daddy, but there's nothing untoward in their relationship, which, amidst the sailing knives and blossoms, unsurprisingly, grows into a full-fledged love so strong they no longer need to speak in order to communicate. As their fortunes tip and sway and reassert themselves, Leconte keeps things from becoming too obvious, too predictable, by injecting a healthy dose of surreal humor to the affair. There are moments when you think the whole cast is about to burst into a musical number, but they don't -- this isn't The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but in a way it has the same light, lovely bounce to it. Apart from Auteuil's weathered face and Paradis' amazing good looks, the most memorable facet of Girl on the Bridge is Jean-Marie Dreujou's breathtaking cinematography, which feels at once ethereal and gritty like dirty cotton candy. There hasn't been a better-looking black-and-white film since Janusz Kaminski's work on Schindler's List (or maybe Carlo Di Palma's gooey Shadows and Fog), and it levitates the film into a whole new realm of giddy, cloud-borne romance. The whole film is like a refresher course in why French cinema was so important in the first place. It's a near-perfect confection, equal parts love and love of filmmaking, and it goes down smooth and sweet and makes you want to jump off the bridge yourself.