Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Bridge Of Lost Desire

Les amants du Pont-Neuf(The Lovers On The Bridge) (1991) Directed by Leos Carax
The Lovers on the Bridge is an unexpected hybrid of social realism and romantic fantasy.It is bolstered by those things which great cinema often has, first and foremost, commanding performances from it’s principle actors, in Denis Levant’s unique physicality, his limps and sudden ape like bursts of energy (which made me recall another street tramp, Sabu’s performance in The Thief Of Baghdad or his monster from the sewer in Carax's Tokyo segment "Merde"), to Juliette Binoche ailing desperation and melancholy reservation, of an artist going blind.In the opening minutes we are introduced to a sports car driving swiftly down the glowing streets of Paris, and we get peripheral images of a crazed homeless man (Levant) rubbing his head against the concrete in the middle of the street, and a woman (Binoche) wearing an eye patch wandering in the darkness with a easel under her arm. The affluent drivers literally run over Levant’s outstretched leg in the street, and he is taken to a homeless shelter, in a scene that recalls the documentary squalor and grotesque of Harmony Korine’s “Gummo”.Levant chooses to go back his sleeping place in the city, The Pont Nuef, Paris' oldest bridge, which is under reconstruction and closed from the public for a year. Levant shares the space with an elderly homeless man who has an inexplicable amount of “downers” which he distributes to Levant, as sleep aids.Levant is a street performer who eats fire, and after pining from afar, invites Juliette to stay on the bridge, much to the old man’s chagrin.Binoche has not been homeless long it seems, and has a rare eye disease that is slowly blinding her, she and Levant form an unlikely relationship.What is first love for Levant, is a strange end-of-the-rope marriage of convenience, desperation, and affection for Binoche. He is clingy, naïve, manic and childish, and she is manipulative, cowardly, and confused.Though we never learn either of them ended up on the bridge, we know they are both choosing to be there. Levant however, appears to have known no other life, while Binoche is on a path of death-wish middle class slumming. Though they both commit reprehensible acts throughout the film, their “love” is a fragile bridge, lighting up an otherwise bleak and hostile world. This “lightening up” is best visually transposed in the film during a fire works display the two watch while drunk, that ends in a dizzying power boat ride down the Seine, in a blur of motion and lights worthy of Wang Kar Wai’s “Chungking Express”.The film triumphs by not falling into the trap of limiting the characters to sociological insects set for study as the lives of modern homeless.It stumbles a bit in forming a coherently natural story, as interjections of violence, minor characters being shot, set on fire, and just falling off the face of the earth so speak; occur without repercussions or consequences, like three years in prison for attempted murder?These minor clinks and clangs don’t diminish the overall effect of the story.If not literally then certainly we all have "murders" in our pasts, and other stupid acts of reckless puppy eyed abandon. Though they take leaps of romanticism and faith on behalf of the audience to work, scenes of tragedy and turmoil add hair raising suspense to the later half of the film, as it teeters between the soul numbing social realist ending we rationally expect and the unlikely happy ending we desperately crave. The final scene where the lover’s find themselves finally over the side of the bridge, after a moment of hesitation, encapsulates the push to impossibility and romance in the face of “what best” and most “sensible”.Their action’s becoming metaphorical in an emotional language, which literally transcend the bridge that was linking their two worlds as much as it was confining them to an interstitial and transitory state.The bridge is fine during the windy summer nights, but we’ll freeze up here come winter”, being a line which speaks as much literally to conditions of survival, as it does to the fleeting nature of young love himself.Even the vagabond nature of the film seems less about brutal economic reality as it does about aimless, rootless youth, caught in a place literally between worlds, an old story in an old, place but one given a make over, as the bridge itself is reconstructed for the films beautiful and frankly uplifting ending, that James Cameron completely ripped off for "Titanic".The Lovers on the Bridge” is a great, bright, disturbing, romantic film for people who don’t like romantic films. Love as fireworks.

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