The Girl on the Bridge

(La Fille sur la pont, Patrice Leconte, France, 1999)


Patrice Leconte’s films (Ridicule [1996], The Hairdresser’s Husband [1990]) are easy to take. Mixing high style and gloomy romanticism, they are crafted to within an inch of their life. Leconte’s latest, The Girl on the Bridge, is as lightweight as ever, but its pleasures are undeniable.

Leconte’s choice of widescreen black and white (immaculately rendered by cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou) allows him to plunge, with more abandon than ever, into the dark waters of French-style poetic realism. Homages to the classic films of Marcel Carné (such as Les Enfants du Paradis [1945]) flow thick and fast.

These days, poetic realism evolves swiftly into the magic realism popularised by Latin American literature. There is surely a little magic in the air whenever the daredevil knife thrower, Gabor (Daniel Auteuil), hurls the tools of his trade at his willing, young accomplice, Adèle (Vanessa Paradis).

The circus setting allows Leconte to bring in the next level of filmic references, to Fellini and the horror classic Freaks (1932). Gaudy, perversely erotic distractions are everywhere in this strange world – witness, for example, the ambidextrous contortionist (Frédéric Pfluger) left sadly waiting for a tryst.

Yet, while Adèle seems ever ready for a youthful adventure, Gabor is the ascetic type, committed to his work and scornful of emotion. All the romantic tension of the story springs from this difference – and from everything between them that is left unsaid, expressed only by the thrill of whizzing knives and gasped reactions.

The popular jazz music that often invades the soundtrack evokes the least likely of references in this context: Woody Allen. Leconte, like many French cinephiles, clearly adores Alice (1990), with its mix of humour and fantasy. But The Girl on the Bridge pushes things further, into the realm of Julio Medem’s underrated Lovers of the Arctic Circle (1998), once Gabor and Adèle become engaged in what seems like telepathic conversation.

There is little that is new or surprising in Leconte’s treatment of desire, loss, death wishes, temptation and a dream of salvation-through-love. Perhaps plots, characters and themes matter to him only insofar as they allow intense, wordless set-pieces, like the fugitive contact between Michel Blanc and Sandrine Bonnaire in Monsieur Hire (1989), or the knife acts here. Little wonder: in such scenes, Leconte displays a sense of pure cinema to rival Hitchcock.

MORE Leconte: Intimate Strangers, Le Parfum d’Yvonne

© Adrian Martin July 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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