Girl on the Bridge (La fille sur le pont, 1999)

A gem worth rediscovery

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s Patrice Leconte was the darling of the independent film and festival circuit with his adult dramas that burst beyond the boundaries of the French-speaking world into the international market.  His films such as Monsieur Hire, The Hairdresser’s Husband, Ridicule, The Widow of Saint-Pierre, and The Man on the Train garnered both critical acclaim and respectable box office.  In the middle of this run, Leconte directed Girl on the Bridge, which did reasonably well at the time, but has not endured in the same way as many of his other movies.

Vanessa Paradis stars as Adèle, a waif who is unlucky in love, but has trouble saying “no” to men just the same.  When she decides to take her own life by jumping from a Paris bridge, she gets a strange proposition from Gabor (Daniel Auteuil), a professional knife thrower.  Having passed 40, his aim has become erratic.  Since the girl wants to kill herself anyway…  Well, you get the idea.  When she agrees to be the artist’s target, the two Sad Sacks find that they complete each other.  Together, their luck is unstoppable, and they have an almost psychic bond.  But fidelity is not easy, even for those that are perfectly mached.

Girl on the Bridge is a lovely fairy tale trifle, with dashes of humor and magical realism.  It is lighter than most Leconte’s better-known work, but it is no less accomplished.  The widescreen frame is lensed in crisp, high-contrast black and white; and the direction is often surprising playful, including camera shots from the point-of-view of a fly and of Adèle when strapped to the “Wheel of Death.”  The two unreliable, but loveable, grifters at the heart of the story are unforgettable, due both to the script by Serge Frydman and the delightful performances by Paradis and Autueil.  Finally, the way the knife throwing sequences are staged and filmed, they are more erotic than most sex scenes.

I first had the pleasure of watching Patrice Leconte’s Girl on the Bridge at Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival in 2001. The film was only two years old at the time, but it had already qualified as “overlooked” (at least within the U.S.). Sixteen year later, the film is almost completely forgotten.  Why isn’t Girl on the Bridge better remembered?  Maybe the subject matter and tone were a bit too light for fans of Leconte’s darker work.  Maybe the black and white photography scared some people away.  Quite possibly, it was just poor support from the American distributor (I’m referring to you Paramount), which didn’t give the picture the theatrical push or home video promotion that Leconte’s other films received.  After all, Girl on the Bridge wasn’t given a home video release until nine years after its theatrical run, and then it snuck into stores on a budget DVD from Legend Films.

No matter why Girl on the Bridge has been forgotten, it is ripe for rediscovery and overdue for a high-definition Blu-ray transfer that would really show off the beautiful cinematography.  If you ever get the opportunity to see this enchanting story, don’t miss it.  It receives my highest recommendation.

France/B&W-91m./Dir: Patrice Leconte/Wr: Serge Frydman/Cast: Vanessa Paradis, Daniel Auteuil, Frédéric Pfluger, Demetre Georgalas, Catherine Lascault, Isabelle Petit-Jacques

If You Like: Fans of Leconte’s more popular work, as well as cinephiles that enjoy the whimsical side of Fellini’s films, should seek out this lesser-known gem.

Video: The Girl on the Bridge [DVD] from Legend Films is now out-of-print, but you may be able to find it on the secondary market.

Streaming: Not currently available.

More to Explore: For another offbeat, enchanting, forgotten romance, watch Hear My Song (1991) from English writer-director Peter Chelsom.

Trivia: Daniel Auteuil deservedly won the César Award for Best Actor (the French equivalent of the Oscar) for his performance as Gabor.

For more info: Consult the book Patrice Leconte (French Film Directors) by Lisa Downing.

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