Le Pont du Nord continues in Jacques Rivette’s tradition of the magical realist drama, where a number of seemingly preternatural events are fashioned together in such a way that appears realistic even though it would never happen in real life. Often in the case of Rivette’s work, characters meet by happenstance, and the collision of irrational minds prompts a dizzying turn of events. In Le Pont du Nord, two women who meet by chance on the streets of Paris become fast friends in their pursuit of some mysterious clues found on a city map acquired from a shady lover. Rivette muse Bulle Ogier plays Marie, an ex-convict who has just been let out of prison. Aimlessly wandering the streets of Paris in hopes of reuniting with her flame Julien (Pierre Clémenti), Marie has a near accident when she’s almost run over by Baptiste (played by Bulle’s daughter, the late Pascale Ogier) on her motorcycle. Such an inauspicious setup is a sign of turbulent events to come, and soon the two women are getting themselves involved in what may be an espionage ring masterminded by Julien.
If this sounds like a mystery, it most certainly is. Though not of the Hitchcockian sort. Rivette’s 1981 drama moves at a deliberate pace and these two women are deeply observed in the tradition of a Faulkner novel. There’s an almost rambling exploration of the mind and soul here that reveals in layers the fears, desires, and confused dreams of two extremely lonely people. Cleverly and patiently, Rivette seeks out a worthy machination in his two leads who serve here as divining rods for human inspiration. Neither woman is entirely aware of how far she is lapsing into catatonia, the gradual fall so slow that we are witness to a sure but steady de-souling of two humans who cannot connect with their surroundings. An existential mystery with the slight comedic trappings of an Ernst Lubitsch film, Le Pont du Nord exists in a cinematic realm that securely belongs to ‘80s France, the dawning of new wave pop culture that would give birth to “Cinema du Look”, a brief French film movement that capitalized on the edgy style of punk-rock culture.
Rivette mostly does away with plot; there is little to speak of. In fact, the whole espionage angle is merely a ruse that is simply supplied in the story so that Marie and Baptiste will have some excuse to reveal their psychological hang-ups. At its very heart, the film essays the hazards of what’s known as a folie à deux, a shared madness of two people who’s respective mental illnesses compel one another to dangerous extremes. Though Rivette presents his story as a seriocomic farce, there are some pretty real and uncomfortable theories lying deep beneath the slow churn of events.
Kino Lorber’s transfer is pretty decent, though the picture certainly looks as though it could have been cleaned up a little better. There’s quite a bit of grain here, and while it isn’t too distracting, it certainly gives away the film’s age. Color saturation is nicely rendered; against the grey, drab wash of the city buildings, bits of brighter colours radiate like reminders of human life amidst the cold, impersonal city.
A complete and utter disappointment is the two extras that accompany the release. These are video “essays” which are meant to enlighten the viewer about the finer points of the film’s philosophies. They appear rather sloppy and amateurish, more like student film projects than the informative studies they were intended to be. The essays leave the viewer with no further insight into the film and are highly irrelevant. A little better are the liner notes containing a mini essay on the film; though not entirely in-depth, it does provide a sensible critique of Rivette’s film, which at the very least gives some background on the film’s conception.
It’s a slow, long-winding walk around Paris, but viewers who are up for a languorous exploration of two lost souls will be taken in by the hypnotic, slightly metaphysical musings of the story. Rivette has certainly served up other merrier affairs that have betrayed his masterful use of music and colour in cinema. But Le Pont du Nord remains his most elusive effort, never coming clean as to what exactly is being said about the human condition.
This slice of life was reportedly written by its two leading ladies. The drug-related death of Pascale Ogier, who died four years following the film, is eerily revealing of the fictional relationships featured in the film. The enigmatic and haunting ending seems to echo the sentiments of loss and abandonment, sadly foreshadowing the young actress’ untimely passing.