Friday, March 7, 2008

Les Amants du Pont-Neuf

AKA The Lovers on the Bridge

I have often wondered about the fascination with violence in movies. Similarly, with the number of films that portray the poor, the sick, the mad, the dispossessed, the misfits: in fact, any category of person that you can think of that is less like the comfortable life of most of the people who make the films about them, or, for that matter, go to watch such movies. I suppose it is a way of acting out fantasies, or exploring what one dares not experiment with in one's own life. Which is maybe why some of it seems so cartoonish, a caricature of what it really feels like to be in a fight, to live on the streets, to lose one's grip on reality.

I am not sure I have a clue what was going on in director Leos Carax's mind while he was making Lovers on the Bridge, Financially, at least, it has a good claim to be the French Heaven's Gate and has a similar reputation for cost overruns. For example, it is set on the famous Parisian bridge but, for various reasons, most of the scenes had to be shot on a full-scale model built in southern France. Other excesses include scenes of water skiing down the Seine amidst the firework celebrations of the French Bicentenniel; the lovers running naked across the sands of Northern France and in the bizarrest of scenes, identical posters appearing on every Metro wall and construction site fence that one of the characters will subsequently immolate (and, trust me, you have to see the movie to understand what that is all about). In other words, nous ne sommes pas plus en Kansas?

Yet, at the start of the movie, it would seem that Carax is actually more interested in cinéma-vérité. We meet the eponymous lovers, played by Juliette Binoche (Michele) and Daniel Lavant (Alex), just as Alex is about to picked up by the Parisian social services and transported to a homeless shelter. The initial scenes on a bus and in a shelter are like a fly-on-the-wall documentary, warts and all, showing the desperation and degradation of those that live on the streets. For a while, the movie manages to keep this up. However, all too soon, things start to go pear-shaped and we are in a world where we are being shown things that may or may not have happened, things that might only exist within the minds of the characters.

Strangely enough, this inconsistency is at least consistent with the tenor of the movie. For a love story, it not only features two less than attractive personalities but the characters do their best to confound all expectations and subvert our expectations throughout the film. Even though there is plenty of Gallic grandstanding and declarations of love, this is a movie of mumbling and incomprehension, of mistrust and betrayal to the extent that the seemingly happy ending leaves you wondering when the next knife is going into someone's back.

This is not a movie that will teach us any great truths about love or about homelessness or about anything at all really but it is a film that has some great flights of fancy, another one of those grandiose messes that show what can and should not be done with the medium.

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