Patrice Leconte
Girl on the Bridge

By Jen Johans
In director Patrice Leconte’s most recent comedy/drama My Best Friend, he cast
France’s hardest working actor Daniel Auteuil in an unlikely role as Francois, a
successful antique dealer without a friend in the world. Spurned by Francois’
inattention to the feelings of others, his business partner challenges the man to
produce a best friend within ten days, with the understanding that if he fails to
do so, she will obtain an extremely expensive Greek vase Francois irresponsibly
purchased on a whim with company money.

While it’s primarily played for humor,
My Best Friend revisited Leconte’s similar
themes of outsiders who become unlikely friends.  Even more surprisingly,
viewers came to understand the precious nature of friendship this time
refreshingly expressed so expertly between two men, similar to another one of the
director’s quiet, existential male bonding film about mid-life re-evaluation, the
Man on the Train. While both Friend and Train are in the process of
being remade in America, Leconte’s recurring fascination with the dubious yet
seemingly destined friendships that develop between two eccentric characters
have served him well throughout his career, making him one of the most exciting
French directors working today.  

Although in the 90’s he was perhaps best known for his stunning ode to wordplay,
in 1996’s hilariously quick-witted, banter-filled Oscar nominated
Ridicule.  The
film, which was given the prestigious honor of being chosen as the opening night
selection of that year’s Cannes Film Festival, made Leconte a critical darling
nearly overnight and film buffs around the globe took notice.  Unlike the
aforementioned male-centric films, the stunning sensuality of the piece helped
pave the way for the tremendous works that would follow including the
Widow of St. Pierre and leading up to his brilliant ode to Hitchcock’s
Rear Window and Vertigo with one of the best films of 2004, Intimate Strangers,
which incidentally is also slated for a Hollywood remake.

Ridicule, Strangers explored the eroticism of words and this time, how sexy
a film could be without actually depicting the act itself, teasing viewers with a
fascinating example of how appealingly seductive restraint can be on film. The
story, (which proved deceptively simple as the film spiraled to its conclusion),
surrounded the conversationally sizzling bond which resulted when a straight-
laced tax accountant whose world and purpose in life gets thrown into a tail-spin
after a beguiling stranger mistakes him for the psychiatrist down the hall.  And
Strangers was far more mainstream than Man on the Train yet not as
commercially released as
My Best Friend, those unfamiliar with Leconte’s oeuvre
argued that
Intimate Strangers was far too slow and talky to hold popular

Devotees realized that it actually was an evolution towards a more naturalistic
and less surrealistic styled romance than the one he’d crafted in my personal
favorite film of his, the existential and dizzying romantic Golden Globe
Girl on the Bridge.

Recently released on DVD nine years after its theatrical release in 1999, Leconte’s
exquisitely photographed black and white film about destiny, telepathy, magic,
starred both his frequent leading man Daniel Auteuil in a Cesar Award-winning
role as well as Johnny Depp’s significant other, the French pop singer Vanessa
Paradis. In her breakthrough role as the promiscuous yet sweet-natured, down-
on-her-luck Adele, Paradis turns in a visually expressive performance that’s all
the more evident in the film’s opening scene as she’s interrogated about her
perpetual misfortune and ill-fated romances.

Abruptly following that speech, we’re captured by Adele’s tear-stained face and
suicidal glare as the gorgeous young woman leans over the Seine River. However,
fate intervenes as the bridge’s other sole occupant-- the mysteriously charismatic
Gabor (Auteil) — recruits Adele to be the beautiful target in his traveling knife
throwing act. While no doubt this proposition would send most running in the
other direction, and despite some initial skepticism, Adele takes it in stride as
Gabor admits it would be a natural transition because he needs a woman
unafraid of death.

She, in the end, agrees to go along with the eccentric knife-thrower, and once
Adele and Gabor begin their journey, they realize that their luck has changed
entirely.  Oddly enough, the two unlucky outsiders suddenly can’t miss both in
their act and throughout European casinos. Quickly their dynamic evolves into a
sensual companionship that borders on a romantic flirtation, however Leconte is
always careful never to allow the characters to cross over into a sexual

While American audiences are used to having men and women hit the sheets on
film as soon as they meet, in the hands of Leconte, and especially in this
intoxicating reverie, it becomes even more erotic by his decision to not show
anything. Sure enough, instead of a dull couple we’d begin to grow tired of due to
their predictably “happily ever after” bliss, Adele and Gabor’s relationship goes
to an entirely different level. Soon, Leconte requires even further suspension of
disbelief, making the film into one big magical act in its own right as we realize
Adele and Gabor are actually unlikely soul mates who can speak to each other
telepathically.  They are a couple whose form of romantic consummation is
onstage dazzling others with the rush of knife throwing.

Normally, when one sees a suicide attempt combined with knife throwing, one
doesn’t normally imagine the makings of a breathtaking romance. Yet it’s
precisely Leconte’s aversion to playing by traditional rules in following a strict
love story paradigm by offering us such a strangely addictive work that make it
an irresistible attraction of romantic filmmaking opposites.

As a true fan however, I unfortunately have to note that while
Girl has never
looked better in a stunningly, crisp cinematic transfer for its Legend Films DVD
release, other than offering an option to jump to various scenes, there were no
extra features available on the disc. Despite this, the film itself would always be
the main attraction in any DVD release.  Filled with wildly inventive imagery and
a dynamic soundtrack, and clocking in with a brief 91 minute running time, it’s a
fast-paced feast for the senses.

Despite my adoration for
Girl, which I feel is not only wholly successful but one of
the most unforgettable foreign romances of the 1990’s, I’m the first to admit that
it’s not for everyone. Yet,
Girl on a Bridge is sure to garner greater cult status on
DVD as it’s one of those films destined to attract lovers of foreign art film
romances that never quite work out. While thankfully, love seldom involves knife-
throwing, as we all know it is usually far more complicated than Hollywood
would like us to believe.
Text Only (c) Jen Johans.
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