Girl on the Bridge, The (France, 1999) (La Fille sur le Pont) ***1/2
Directed by Patrice Leconte. Written by Serge Frydman. Photography, Jean-Marie Dreujou. Editing, Joelle Hache. Production design, Ivan Maussion. Produced by Christian Fechner. Cast: Avec Vanessa Paradis (Adèle), Daniel Auteuil (Gabor), Demetre Georgalas (Takis), Isabelle Petit-Jacques (Takis's bride), Frédéric Pflüger (the contorsionnist), Giorgios Gatzos (Barker), et al. A Paramount Classic release. In French with subtitles. 92 minutes. R (sexuality). At the Art.
Soon after attending a Freaky Film Festival, by a freaky coincidence I saw "The Girl on the Bridge." In many ways, this superb, fascinating, strange, original feature was a kind of apotheosis of freakishness.
Its director is the so-imaginative Patrice Leconte whose best movies include "Monsieur Hire," a wonderful remake of the classic "Panique" (1946); the very offbeat love story "The Hairdresser's Husband"; and the splendidly sharp and witty "Ridicule," set among aristocrats of the court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.
Leconte's films are original, clever in scenarios, dialogues and performances, with superior cinematography and often colorful settings. "The Girl" is all that but now the glorious colors have been replaced by glorious black-and-white which aids our concentration and gives the film a "classic movie" feel.
It entertains in quirky, funny and sexy ways --all beyond easy description. It stars the great Daniel Auteuil and very popular singer-actress Vanessa Paradis, The picture is constructed like a succession of small puzzles which, however, impede neither comprehension nor appreciatioon. Opening on a soundtrack of Algerian music is the sequence of Adele, all in closeups. She is pretty, about 23, gap-toothed (a Gallic Lauren Hutton?) She talks and talks about her sad lot, her string of sexual and sentimental failures in male retlationships. It is an odd kind of self-analysis, self-criticism and confession. Whom is she addressing? A jury? A group of shrinks? She is very much a woman, but also strangely childish.
Cinephiles may be reminded of the sequence in Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" where the boy Antoine Doinel replies to questions by a reformatory's psychologist. Her declarations, paradoxical and often quietly funny also bring to mind Jean-Luc Godard's style.
We next meet her in night and fog, on a bridge of the river Seine in Paris. She intends to jump to her death. But Gabor appears, talks, mocks, argues, and finally fishes her out of the murky waters. He rescues her because he needs a new partner, meaning a target for his skills as a knife thrower. The two become a couple of performers, but not an item. Gabor takes her to a posh circus in Monaco where they do their number, The Wheel of Death. She is tied to a rotating wheel. He throws his blades at her, It is terrifying yet also, after a fashion, humorous. We are asked (but not pressured) to believe that between Adele and Gabor and the knives, there's a kind of mental tele-guidance. He does nick her more than once however, and his box of band-aids becomes a funny prop. And there's additional mind-power as Gabor -- who will not gamble-- has Adele do it and win stacks of money.
The film develops as a strange kind of road-movie which takes the duo to Italy, to a cruise ship going to Greece and Turkey, to a fanciful, amusing separation of the two. This grows into longing. Mind you, there is neither sex nor verbal love-making between the man and the girl. Adele is sex-obsessed -- a kind of nymphomaniac. She attaches herself sexually, instantly and serially to man after man, consummates sex in comical or farcical scenes (including one with a contortionist) but does not fall in love. Gabor reprimands her (when he doesn't shrug his shoulders,) yet keeps his cool --as she does hers.
Of course, the movie would be inhumane if Gabor were not gradually falling in love. But the film is humane, like those it may remind you of partly-- such as Fellini's "La Strada," but without its pessimism and grunge. Not to mention Felliniesque music. (The movie has an outstanding, rich musical commentary from much Italian to Benny Goodman, Mariane Faitfull, Hispanic, Turkish, and other sounds.)
On board the cruise ship, Adele's latest instant fling is with Takis, a chic Greek newlywed whose rationale to Gabor about his "blitz" affair with Adele is: "My wife is Italian. We don't understand each other.."
Such delectable absurdisms populate the movie. There is even a section where Takis and Adele leave the ship and their partners in mid-Mediterranean, by escaping in a lifeboat. The sequence seems to upend James Bond who, at the conclusion of many 007 flicks finds himself on a small boat--with a gorgeous female.
Non sequiturs, frequent metaphors for sex, bits of fetishism, surreal sights and sites, symbolism, run rife. Yet they always fit the characters, the action, the sets while they are not pretentious, sophomoric, pleasd with themselves or irritating.
This is a devilishly smart and smartly played movie. But I doubt that its direction, performances and paraphernalia could exist without the splendid script by Serge Frydman who had earlier twice collaborated with Leconte.