Girl on the Bridge
(La Fille sur la pont)

         In a stunning and ultimately quite brilliant gambit, director Patrice
 Leconte opens the beautifully shot black-and-white romantic comedy-drama
  GIRL ON THE BRIDGE with a monologue delivered in a tour de force by
 singer-actress Vanessa Paradis. Adèle (Paradis) is reciting a hard-luck
 litany of her life; how each terrible moment has led her to another man
 who has his way with her and then brings her grief. The six-minute scene
 (reportedly filmed in one take) provides enough background on Adèle
 to understand why the next time the audience sees her, she is standing
 on a footbridge at night gazing down at the Seine.

         With her gap-toothed smile, shaggy hair, cheekbones that could cut
 glass and more than a dollop of winsome charm, Adèleis depicted as one
 of life's losers. Anunhappy young woman who sees no future and is
 convinced she is "stamped with the seal of failure." As she tentatively
 decides to jump, Gabor (Daniel Auteuil, who won the Best Actor César
 for his performance) emerges and tries to persuade her not to jump. Just
 as it seems he is beginning to reach her, she dives into the water and
 he jumps in after. As they are being treated for hypothermia at a hospital,
 Gabor manages to persuade Adèle to trust him and accompany him.
 The pair establish a sort of psychic bond and Gabor, who makes his
 living as a carnival knife-thrower convinces Adèle to join him in his act.

         As in any fairy tale, the heroine has to undergo a transformation
 nd in scenes that recall a montage from any number of movies
PRETTY WOMAN came to my mind), Gabor oversees the turning of
 this duckling into a swan. She is given a stylishly boyish haircut (all
 the better to make her into a gamine) and a new wardrobe.
 Metamorphosis complete, they debut their act in Monaco, where
 Gabor adds the obstacle of performing the knife-throwing act blindly,
 relying on the growing telepathic bond they have come to share. He
 later exploits their connection at a casino, where Adèle acts as his
 stand-in as Gabor has been banned for life. Over time, their relationship
 appears to deepen, but Adele has this knack for sleeping with everyone
 else but Gabor. In one scene that is both gloriously photographed
 but borders on camp, Adèle and Gabor retreat to an abandoned
 warehouse near a train station and perform their "routine," the
 metaphor for their repressed sexual tension clearly obvious.

GIRL ON THE BRIDGE possesses a timeless quality, in part
 because of Jean-Marie Dreujou's expert black-and-white cinematography
 which crisply captures the gray tones. Leconte hearkens back to the
 cinema of the late 1950s and 60s with allusions to Fellini (the circus
 acts reference
LA STRADA) and others. (There are also echoes of more
 recent filmmakers as well, particularly Leconte's countryman Leos Carax.)
 Although the film relies on the tried and true formula of older man and
 younger woman, in this case it seems more organic than when American
 directors attempt it. Auteuil delivers a skillful portrayal of a man whose
 confidence and brio masks loneliness and despair. Matching him is
 Paradis who has one of the best roles to date as Adèle. There is a nice
 chemistry between them although the scripts intermittent use of the
 psychic bond between them is problematic.

         Had writer Serge Frydman been willing to explore in more detail that
 connection, the film might have been richer. The idea that these two are a
 matched set is an intriguing one, but instead of delving into the
 psychological aspects, the filmmakers have opted for a surface approach.
 Still, what is on screen is often compelling and gorgeous, thanks to the
 actors, the camera work and Leconte's decision to use extant recordings
 (everything from classical music to Benny Goodman to pop works like
 Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry" to African-infused rhythms) in lieu of a formal
 musical underscore.

                         Rating:                B
                         MPAA Rating:        R for some sexuality
                         Running time:       90 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.