Girl On The Bridge

Laura Clifford
Robin Clifford

Just as Adele (French pop star Vanessa Paradis) prepares to jump off a Parisian bridge, Gabor (Daniel Auteuil, "Un Coeur en Hiver") appears from the shadows to test her resolve and offer her a job as his assistant. He's a knife thrower and figures Adele has nothing to lose in "The Girl on the Bridge."

It's been a long time since I experienced what I call 'cinema rush' - that intoxicating feeling I get whenever I see a truly great film. Director Patrice Leconte ("Monsieur Hire") has confected a wildy romantic, stunning film, which won a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture and eight Cesar (the French Oscar) nominations (Auteuil won for Best Actor).

Adele believes she has no luck at all - she's 'a bug strip,' 'a vacuum cleaner that picks up the dirt that was left behind.' In the film's opening minutes, Adele tells an interrogator, in front of an audience, about her past, where she hopped from man to man at her convenience in a quest for survival. Adele is clearly somewhat amoral and promiscuous. The only minor quibble I have with this film is that it's unclear at what point in time Adele is supposed to be giving this interview - it doesn't quite mesh with the film's ending.

Gabor, on the other hand, has a theory about luck and believes he can concoct it with Adele. He's telepathic and together they hum. Over and over again he proves this by betting on the flight of a fly, with a raffle ticket, at the roulette wheel and during their act, which he constantly pushes to greater and greater heights. Gabor fusses and frets when the much younger Adele trysts with handsome young men, making a nuisance of himself, yet never making a move on her himself. His knife throwing act is clearly a metaphor for sex, however, and gradually Adele gives up other men, until coincidence, disguised as luck of a different sort, arises on a cruise ship with disastrous results.

The prolific Auteuil has found a signature role with Gabor. With barely a change of facial expression he can be scathingly funny or intensely serious. The way he smokes a cigarette conveys more than words. He'll make you feel his pain AND his joy. Paradis would appear to be out of her league against such a great actor, yet her Adele is fully formed and beguiling. Her flightiness and enjoyment of the moment eventually give way to deeper emotions when it finally dawns on her just what she and Gabor really had together.

Serge Frydman's script has a basic romantic structure and utilizes dualilty in the name of luck (betting on the roulette wheel precedes the 'Wheel of Death' act, for example). Gabor's circus-related profession makes this film a natural for Fellini comparisons and it does briefly focus on a midget performer memorizing endless facts in closeup. "La Strada" also comes to mind, but Frydman and Leconte's circus is definitively French, not Italian (a contortionist making love to Adele on top of a piano before Gabor interrupts them is a great sight gag).

Every other aspect of this film is top notch as well. Music ranges from Arabic numbers to Benny Goodman to Marianne Faithful, with each and every selection perfectly matched to its visuals. What could have been a cliched makeover montage when Gabor outfits Adele for showbiz pops in the hands of Leconte and his musical choice of "Sing, Sing, Sing." The black and white photography by Jean-Marie Dreujou is rich, lush and full of texture. Dutch angle closeups, fly-eye-views, film noir lighting and sun-drenched locations like Monte Carlo and Istanbul are sumptuously presented. Costume design by Annie Perier is imaginative, particularly Gabor's garish floral numbers, which, while really odd, perfectly suit him.

"The Girl on the Bridge" is an almost perfect film. It's funny, a hair's breadth away from tragic. and soulfully romantic. It's art.


21-year old Adele (Vanessa Paradis) is an attractive, unlucky girl who follows her heart, not her head, and has suffered a string of bad and broken romances. She is standing on the edge of a bridge, contemplating ending her young life, when a stranger named Gabor (Daniel Auteuil) interrupts her. Gabor is a professional knife thrower who says, "Burned out women are my stock in trade" as he recruits the desperate Adele to join him in his waning career. A strange and beautiful love story develops between this odd couple as they hit the road in French director Patrice Leconte's "Girl on the Bridge."

There are very few times during the course of a year, any year, where I give a film an A. "Girl on the Bridge" is one of the very few films, this year, to garners that acclaim. Next to my favorite, the beautiful Iranian film "The Color of Paradise," "Girl on the Bridge" may be the best for the entire year. Helmer Leconte doesn't have much of a track record in the US - it's worth the search to find a copy of his haunting tale on sexuality, "Monsieur Hire" - and the vivid art house look of his latest film won't change that record much. And, that is a shame.

"The Girl on the Bridge" is many things. First, the outstanding original screenplay by longtime Leconte collaborator Serge Frydman is both a road movie and a romantic story of two people who come together through the luck of being in the right place at the right time - for true love. This part of the tale is based on trust as Gabor, after saving Adele from her suicide attempt, convinces the vulnerable young woman to join him in his trade. Adele puts her faith in the knife thrower who wins her over with his remarkable extrasensory talents. When the two arrive in Monaco to perform in a circus, they are refused the job unless they have a never-seen-before original act. Gabor makes a sudden change in plans and offers the owner something truly unique - perform the dangerous act blind! Reluctantly, Adele goes along with Gabor and they discover a telepathic connection that makes their act near perfect.

As the couple travels from the Riviera to Italy, astonishing crowds with their death-defying act, Adele slips back to her old ways. She proves to Gabor that she is the cause of her own bad luck as she risks their professional (and growing personal) relationship when she goes off with the first handsome face she sees. Letting her heart dictate whom she thinks is Mr. Right, she puts the act at risk when she runs off without warning. Gabor is patient, if cynical, but the relationship is destined to hit rocky shoals. The tale weaves its way along with false hopes and desperate actions as the two, though apart, still communicate telepathically. One half of you fears they will stay apart while the other half hopes they will get together - right to the end.

Auteuil and Paradis make this mesmerizing story believable with their terrific performances. Auteuil ("Une Coeur en Hiver") is an acerbic character who has been in the business a long time and knows that he is near the end. When he realizes that Adele is the perfect partner, he shuns the intimacy that they share in their performance. In one sequence, while practicing for the act, they have a sensual interlude as Adele, through their telepathic bond, almost guides the thrown knives to home. The eroticism of the scene is palpable and as nearly sexual as two people can get from twenty feet apart. The actor commands the screen with his chemistry, giving a convincing performance as a man who has carefully handled other's lives, like his precious knives, all of his life.

Paradis ("Noce Blanche") is a perfect match for Auteuil as the vivacious Adele. While looking decidedly plain in the press material, the actress comes off as a scatterbrain beauty, but with so much inner complexity you forget you are watching an act. The camera loves Paradis and Leconte evinces a superb performance from the young actress and singer.

The achievements in direction, story and acting may make a film great, but a masterpiece (and some may call "Girl on the Bridge" a masterpiece) requires something more. How the image is put onto the screen is of such importance, it cannot be ignored. The use of light, camera movement and placement, the visual artistry of the film's composition, production design, costuming, music editing and locale all can lend to making a film great. These elements are present in quantity in "Girl on the Bridge."

The marvelous achievement in photographic excellence is achieved by Jean-Marie Dreujun with his use of grainy, high contrast black and white film to give a surrealistic look that complements the offbeat love story. As the camera wends its way with the developing "romance" between the leads, we are treated to a tour-de-force of artistic mastery at Dreujun's hands. The use of B&W stock helps give the film a look that transcends time and space, making it, looks-wise, an immediate classic.

The varied settings provide, at times, a look that is reminiscent of Federico Fellini, but without being pigeonholed as Felliniesque. When the camera follows Gabor and Adele through behind the scenes of the circus, we are greeted with all sorts of bizarre people - a fire-eater, a contortionist, a bearded lady, dwarves and all manner of intriguing carny-type people are displayed. While surreal looking, it all makes sense and fits the fabric of the film. The costuming of the two stars is perfect, too. Gabor wears loud suits covered with flower patterns that are so outrageous that the obvious bright colors come through the B&W film. Adele is gowned, during the knife throwing exhibitions, in sexy attire that suits the old-fashioned circus act.

The music used to carry the film along shows the eclectic taste of the director, who selected many of the tunes that are used so well. Classic American tunes like Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry" and Benny Goodman's raucous "Sing, Sing , Sing" and "Bugle Call Rag" are intertwined with traditional French music, Marianne Faithful and the resonant ethnic music of the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble. All of it is put to superb affect, with "Sing, Sing, Sing" used particularly well to punch up a cliched dressing room montage.

Unfortunately, "Girl on the Bridge" is real art house fare and will probably only be around for a short while. If you love film, really love film, you must see this movie. Try to see it at the theater (you'll need to search for it) for the big screen, but see it you must. You don't hear this too often from me: I give it an A.

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