Judge Ben Saylor once had a brief and wholly unspectacular career in bread knife throwing.
"You look like a girl who's about to make a mistake."
Patrice Leconte (My Best Friend) has proven himself to be a versatile filmmaker who has made works as varied as the dark, haunting Monsieur Hire, the witty costume drama Ridicule, and the touching dramedy Man on the Train, among others. With 1999's Girl on the Bridge, Leconte has created a poetic, amusing, and ultimately romantic film about two lost souls who find salvation within each other.
Facts of the Case
Unlucky in love and unhappy with her life, Adèle (Vanessa Paradis) readies herself to jump off a bridge. She is stopped, however, by Gabor (Daniel Auteuil, The Valet), a cynical knife thrower searching for a new target. Adèle decides to join Gabor, and the pair experience success not only with the knife-throwing act but also at casino tables. But when Adèle's weakness for unreliable men causes her to stray from Gabor, each of them soon finds that they are better off together than apart.
When I first read a plot summary for Girl on the Bridge, I was a little worried. "Knife throwing?" I thought. "This has the potential to be a silly movie." Thankfully, my concerns were unwarranted, because Girl on the Bridge is certainly a quirky (a word I often wield with disdain in reference to movies, but not here) film, but by and large, its idiosyncrasies are endearing rather than grating.
Leconte does an excellent job controlling the tone of Girl on the Bridge. With a plot element like knife throwing and a script that deals heavily with ruminations on luck, the film could easily have veered into goofy or pretentious territories respectively. However, under Leconte's directorial guidance (powered by Serge Frydman's script), the movie never feels tonally uneven, and at less than 90 minutes without credits, it is very well paced.
Leconte was also fortunate to have two talented performers in Auteuil and Paradis. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I only really became aware of Auteuil within the past couple years or so, despite the fact that he's been turning out great performances for a long time. Through movies as varied as Francis Veber's farce The Closet and Michael Haneke's disturbing thriller Caché, Auteuil has ably demonstrated his immense range. He needs that range in Girl on the Bridge, as his character is decidedly multi-dimensional: He's boorish (his criticisms of Adèle), desperate (begging for his act to be staged), and lonely (selling his throwing knives on a dusty street). As Gabor, Auteuil uses his eyes to great effect; the intensity that his widened eyes convey is fascinating in that it can be used to comedic and serious ends depending on the context of the scene. In short, it's not surprising that Auteuil's performance in Girl on the Bridge snagged the actor his second César Award (and ninth nomination of a current total of 12).
Paradis, for her part, lends a distinctive look and presence to Adèle. Up until this point I only knew Paradis as being Johnny Depp's longtime partner, so it was interesting to see her in a film. As with Auteuil, it's Paradis' eyes that attract the viewer, but in her case, it's due to the faraway quality they often seem to have. They're yearning, and searching, which is appropriate considering the state of Adèle through much of the film.
I also like the energy Paradis brings to the role; Adèle can more than hold her own when verbally sparring with the caustic Gabor. In fact, the best scenes between the two actors are when their characters are trading barbs. The actors make Frydman's dialogue really soar, as in the scene after Gabor has thrown knives at Adèle for the first time:
Adèle: My coat's ruined. [Gabor has pierced it with a knife.]
The actors toss off the lines in this exchange with the snap of a classic screwball comedy, and again, it's remarkable that the movie can vacillate between exchanges like that one and more serious (but never too serious) moments.
Visually, Girl on the Bridge is something special as well. Leconte and director of photography Jean-Marie Dreujou create a mesmerizing black and white world that incorporates film noir-esque contrast for some scenes and blown out backgrounds for others. Camera movement is brisk and appropriate to what's happening on the screen; Leconte is equally adept at going handheld for some scenes, such as the Adèle makeover montage, and utilizing carefully composed compositions for others, like the knife-throwing scene after Gabor and Adèle talk near some train tracks.
The latter scene warrants additional discussion. It occurs about an hour into the movie, after Adèle has tried to leave Gabor for a handsome stranger, only to find she's not happy. She rejoins Gabor and proceeds to harangue him for his hectoring manner. But then she asks him, "You know what I want?" To which he replies, "The same thing as me?" "Now. Right away. Anywhere," Adèle answers back. We then see Gabor and Adèle heading into a building near the train tracks. In most movies, that exchange (and how it is delivered), coupled with the subsequent movement into the building, would imply that the two are about to have sex. Instead, Adèle puts herself against the wall and Gabor begins throwing his knives. More than any other knife-throwing scene up until this point, this sequence is charged with palpable erotic tension as Adèle writhes and gasps as Gabor intently throws his knives at her, his eyes lit by a strip of light that comes in through slants in the plank walls. At one point, Leconte even frames a shot of Adèle horizontally, making her look as if she's on her back. Gabor and Adèle are at least 10 to 15 feet apart during the entire sequence, but the way Leconte stages it is sexier than a lot of actual sex scenes in other films.
Legend Films' DVD presentation of Girl on the Bridge is decent in the audio and visual departments. As with other recent releases from Legend Films, this disc is completely barebones. The English subtitles that are included cannot be removed.
Patrice Leconte's Girl on the Bridge is a visual stunner with great performances from its lead actors. While its off-kilter vibe might not be for everyone, this unique, romantic film deserves an audience.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Legend Films
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