The Girl on the Bridge (1999)

by Mark Hayward


The latest offering from veteran French director Patrice LeConte, The Girl on the Bridge (La fille sur le pont), has been making the rounds at festivals throughout North America for some time, last year garnering a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film. Even before the nomination, however, Paramount Classics picked up the rights to The Girl on the Bridge, following the 1999 Telluride Festival, then put it into limited release around the world. Now, the movie’s release to a select group of U.S. cinemas corresponds with its appearance on video in the French Canadian market. It is the irony of contemporary “art” cinema that, in spite of this film’s decidedly anti-commercial bent, it is caught in the labyrinth of licensing arrangements and distribution agreements.

The Girl on the Bridge begins by presenting the sad situation of Adele (Vanessa Paradis), a girl who, in her own words, “has never fallen on the right number.” She recounts the unfortunate succession of events and encounters that make up the first twenty-three years of her life to an unseen female interviewer. When asked what hopes she has for the future, Adele is unable to speak, so unimaginable has her future become. This odd but arresting scene does little to indicate what will follow.

cover art

The Girl on the Bridge (La fille sur le pont)

Director: Patrice LeConte
Cast: Vanessa Paradis, Daniel Auteuil

(Paramount Classics)

Following this mysterious interview (it’s never clear who conducts it or why), Adele goes to a bridge with the intention of throwing herself into the Seine. Standing at the railing, trying desperately to convince herself to jump, she’s approached by Gabor (Daniel Auteuil). Unshaven and smoking a cigarette, he tells Adele that he typically hangs around on bridges, searching out girls who seem about to make a “terrible mistake.” Gabor turns out to be a professional knife-thrower, and he engages the girl on the bridge as his assistant, which is to say, his target.

I’ll avoid unnecessary metaphors involving “bulls’ eyes”; suffice it to say that the encounter proves to be as uncommon and profitable as hitting the number in the New York State Lottery. Taking the odd nature of this relationship as a starting point, the narrative of The Girl on the Bridge dances lightly around the subjects of love and chance for ninety minutes. As a team, Adele and Gabor cannot make a false step. From his hurling of daggers, to their winning big at Monte Carlo, to her driving blind on mountain roads in the Alps, when the two are together, they seem to have stuffed their pockets with four-leaf clovers and rabbits’ feet. When they are separated, however, nothing goes right. In this way, their evolving romance is a modern fairy-tale. Without background or explanation, a series of improbable events unfold as though they were the most — even the only — logical progression conceivable.

The most emphatic metaphor for Adele and Gabor’s repressed sexual passion — the knives, the risk of her death — suggests that LeConte and screenwriter Serge Frydman are searching for ways to express the extreme unlikelihood of love, its splendor and exhilaration, as well as its danger and obsession (these are knifes, after all!). Sometimes, their tensions are lost to the film’s overt artifice. If the plot seems to unfold unpredictably, the black and white, perfectly lit cinematography and dialogue betray a tightly formulated aesthetic. The scenes in which Gabor is throwing knives are not so much thrilling as they are graceful; they show a ritual, not a gamble. Still, The Girl on the Bridge is a beautiful film. The soundtrack effectively mixes big band music of the thirties with Turkish pop music, giving an intriguingly European flavour to the film’s gorgeous images of Europe’s Mediterranean cities.

In the final tally, though, this is Vanessa Paradis’ vehicle, filled with long looks at her slim figure and sculpted cheekbones. But if she embodies the role of a “little girl lost,” she never quite succumbs to utter defencelessness: Adele is never completely reliant on Gabor and makes some surprising decisions along the way to the film’s foregone conclusion. However, if you’ve developed a dislike for Paradis since the days of “Joe LeTaxi” (the pop song which introduced a 14-year-old Paradis to the world), keep in mind that the film asks you to give yourself over to her gap-toothed charm from the opening scene.

I recently saw a poster featuring a suitably iconographic photo of Albert Einstein. Between the photo and the name “Albert Einstein” was the quotation, “Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love.” I do not typically pay much attention posters of this sort, but something about this one made me think of The Girl on the Bridge. Like the poster, the film attempts to explore the mysterious relationship between bodies at both a physical and immaterial level and, in the end, it does not seek to go much further than this poster. It leaves the enigma and the enjoyment intact. Is that bad? Not really. This is a playful film that does not ask the viewer for sustained reflection, but rather, to take delight in the images on the screen. Hey, I’ve always been a sucker for those Robert Doisneau pictures.

We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

READ the article