|The Lovers on the Bridge/
Les Amants du Pont-Neuf
At the height of the bicentennial celebrations of the 1789 French Revolution, Leos
Carax began filming what was to become one of the most expensive motion pictures in
the history of French cinema, The Lovers on the Bridge (Les Amants du Pont-Neuf).
Three years in the making, the film divided critics on its release in his homeland but came
to be thought of as one of the best foreign films never released in the United States. (It was
particularly championed by Film Comment.) Well, thanks to Harvey Weinstein and Miramax
Films, American audiences can see what all the fuss was about.
The burning question is, should I see it? The answer, a qualified yes. Be prepared to be
enthralled and overwhelmed. Carax is not always a subtle practitioner of his art, but he
glories in the possibilities of cinema; not only are there some of the most visually arresting
images ever committed to film, but it also contains two superlative performances by its
leads Denis Lavant and Juliette Binoche.
Carax is an amazing director. A former film critic for Cahiers du Cinema, he had only
made two other features before undertaking The Lovers on the Bridge. Critics attacked
his earlier work for its lack of so-called mainstream appeal but Carax (born Alexandre
Dupont) showed a mastery of technique. In his first three films, the love story was front and
center and in each Lavant appeared as a character named Alex. One might easily argue
that just as Truffaut used Jean-Pierre Léaud as his onscreen alter ego, Carax did the
same with Lavant. And, the fact that the director was also romantically involved with his
leading ladies (Mireille Perrier in Boy Meets Girl (1984) and Binoche in both Mauvais
Sang/Bad Blood (1986) and Les Amants du Pont-Neuf/The Lovers on the Bridge)
raised further issues.
This film, which required the building of a replica of the famed Pont-Neuf, the Seine
River and the surrounding buildings, is essentially a two-hander about a romance between
Lavant's Alex, a drifter who makes a few coins as a fire-eater but who seems to be content
in his hardscrabble existence, and Binoche's Michele, an artist suffering from a rare eye
disease who has run away from her privileged life. The only other vaguely prominent
character is Hans (Klaus-Michael Gruber), a drunk who rules over the bridge and keeps
Alex in line by doling out a sleeping potion to him nightly. When Michele seeks refuge
among the construction debris (the bridge is being restored), Alex comes to her defense
and she is allowed to stay. Gradually, Michele and Alex draw closer and their burgeoning
love leads to one of the most amazing set pieces in the film. Against a backdrop of
bicentennial fireworks and contemporary music, Alex and Michele dance and cavort
with abandon. Alex even manages to find a way for them to go boating on the Seine
with Michele water-skiing. Later, as Michele's family seeks to find her, Alex does all he
can to stop her from leaving him. There is another incredible sequence where he sets
fire to a series of posters of her in a Metro station that is mesmerizing.
While Carax called upon such disparate influences as F.W. Murnau (Sunrise) and
Woody Allen (Manhattan), the success of the film truly lies in the performances of Lavant
and Binoche. Having already worked together on Mauvais Sang/Bad Blood, there is an
easy chemistry that makes the love story all the more believable. Lavant, with his shaved
head and gaunt looks may make for an unlikely leading man, yet he perfectly captures the
desperation and the neediness of this character. Binoche subsumed her natural beauty to
achieve a ravaged look. Wearing an eye patch and looking disheveled, she still managed
As with all of Carax's previous work (as well as POLA X), this film probably will inspire
a mixed reaction. It strikes me as the kind of film that one will either revel in or detest. If
you are a fan of Binoche, it is a must-see. If you are interested in lively and risky filmmaking,
it is a must-see. If you admire terrific production values (and here I must cite cinematographer
Jean-Yves Escoffier and art director Michel Vandenstien deserve special praise), this is one
that can't be missed. If none of this appeals to you, well there are other choices, but you
may kick yourself for missing this incredible motion picture.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and
Running time: 125 mins.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.