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The Lovers on the Bridge
(Les amants du Pont-Neuf)

Review by Jay Rittenberg

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Directed by: Leos Carax
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Denis Lavant, and Klaus-Michael Gruber

I recently gave Rob Reiner credit in a review for his latest home video release The Story of Us. Although I did not recommend the film, I felt that the director should be praised somewhat for producing a romantic comedy that was far removed from the usual, over-sentimental fluff pieces that we're used to seeing. In that same vein, I applaud director Leos Carax for his highly unconventional love story The Lovers on the Bridge.

This is definitely not a movie for all tastes. A romance between two homeless degenerates is not exactly a good date movie. If you do decide to pick this one up at your local video store, be very patient with it, since the harsh opening ten minutes or so will make just about anyone bolt for the eject button. If you can hang in there, you will discover a terrific, beautifully shot, and haunting love story that will surely stay with you.

Although it has been nearly ten years since its initial release in theaters to home video, I found the wait was worth it - in fact, the film is notorious for its delays and production problems. Carax's film revolves around the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris. Not only did the director lose permission to feature the actual landmark in the film, but since it was at the heart of his story, he had to fork over a ton of money (money that wasn't in the original budget) to reconstruct the bridge at another European location. Before he knew it - with a seemingly out-of-control budget, and numerous production delays (including lead Denis Lavant breaking his leg) - his film became the "Pre-French" equivalent of Last Action Hero. But shooting woes is about the only thing that these two had in common, as Carax overcame these difficulties and delivers a memorable and visually powerful finished product.

Carax sets his romantic fable in the timeframe of 1989, during France's Bicentennial celebration. The story centers on Paris's famous Pont-Neuf bridge, which is closed for renovations and is the residence of the film's three main characters: Hans, Alex, and Michele. Hans (Klaus-Michael Gruber) is a boozing, sad, old man, who is in essence the gatekeeper of the bridge. Alex (Lavant) is a hotheaded, troubled drug addict, who is like a surrogate son to Hans. Michele (Juliette Binoche) is a partially blind artist, the daughter of a powerful and affluent military figure. She is obviously sad, and is running away from something painful. In her attempt to put her troubles behind her, she makes her way to the bridge, which she now calls home. Hans, however, feels that the streets are no place for a woman and does not want her around. Alex, who has fallen in love with this mysterious loner, does not concur and does everything that he possibly can for her to reciprocate his feelings. What Alex soon discovers is that she also feels the same, forming one of the silver screen's most odd, but passionate couplings.

Since they only have each other, they do whatever they can to survive including drugging people in order to steal their wallets, pilfering speedboats, and getting pitifully drunk together. We're talking about two people that are immediately drawn to one another and who need each other in the very worst way. They live in the now, since they have no idea what the future holds, if they can even count on one.

Alex realizes that Michele might indeed have a future after all as he notices (unbeknownst to her) a never-ending supply of posters that her family has put up all over town stating the strong possibility that she can regain her sight completely with an operation. This is the point in the film that we truly feel for Alex, as we sense that he becomes threatened that the one thing that ever truly mattered in his life might possibly disappear. He feels that if she regains her sight, she would leave his world. As a result, he would rather see her go blind than lose her. This is the grueling dilemma that our headliner faces.

The reason The Lovers on the Bridge captivated me was two-fold: the camerawork by cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier (Good Will Hunting) and the believable and passionate work of leads Binoche and Lavant, who say more with their facial expressions than most actors do with several pages of well-written dialogue. The scenes involving the unlikeliest of lovers in the train station (where they become separated and desperately look for one another); the moment where they steal a boat and go joyriding; and especially the point where they dance joyously together on the bridge during a Bastille Day fireworks celebration are all equally powerful and visually spectacular.

Although the film's photography is breathtaking, its acting is even better. The chemistry between the two leads is very strong. You truly believe that they need each other and should be together. Their passionate love affair is poetic in some ways and haunting in others. Their feelings are so intense that I feel it - they penetrate me in such a way that I can share their joys and pains with them. When Alex realizes that Michele might be slipping away from the world he lives in, I can comprehend why he turns so selfish and obsessive. The things that he does to shield Michele from the truth are powerful and moving.

People might question why these two are even together in the first place, or if their love is truly destined, but all you have to do is see how these two look at each other and communicate so much with so little words being spoken. I believe in their bold love story because both Binoche and Lavant make it believable.

This is one odd duck of a movie, but it works. It is one of the most bizarre love stories that you'll catch all year but also one of the most moving. And unlike most, it is as believable as it is original. The Lovers on the Bridge features a hypnotizing bond between two outcasts, whose feelings for each other get them through each passing day. It is a film that lingers long after the ending credits have rolled.

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