She: Suicidal, about to jump off a bridge. He: A carnival knife thrower. Would you like to be my target, he asks. Sounds like a match made in heaven.
Patrice Leconte's La Fille sur le Ponte (The Girl on the Bridge) may be a bit of quirky romantic fluff, but it's great fluff. It's a diverting entertainment without much purchase, thank goodness, for the admiration of deeper meanings with which some cinephiles deaden the experience of good French movies.
It's the story of two people who probably could only exist in the movies. Adele (Vanessa Paradis) is 21, endlessly compliant and endlessly unlucky in love (and with just about everything else, too). She's a charming gamin, especially if you're the young man trying to pick her up. "Boys attract me," she says, "like beautiful clothes. I always want to try them on."
At last she figures out that, for her, while sex is a friendly thing, it never seems to last or to work into anything else. "Funny, isn't it, how people can seem madly in love when they're not. It must be easy to fake."
So there she is one evening about to jump off a bridge. Gabor (Daniel Auteuil), an older man, tries to talk her out of jumping. He'd like her to be his target. With her figure and his skill, they'll be a hit...although, he points out, "past the age of 40 knife throwing becomes erratic." She decides to jump anyway. He rescues her and before long they are an act. Adele continues to offer her innocently explicit friendship to those she encounters. She discovers a gift for luck. Gabor? Well, Adele and Gabor develop a distinctly odd approach to intimacy...knife throwing. Giving and receiving seems to bring out all the heavy breathing and beads of perspiration one would expect from the other activity. Note: Do not try this at home just to find out for yourself.
What starts as a clever, funny suicidal set up moves into a clever, amusing story about knife throwing as a metaphor for sex, and roulette as a metaphor for...well, maybe a relationship. It's so off-kilter, and Adele and Gabor are so attractive and interesting, that their quirky relationship is almost a guilty pleasure to watch.
Will Adele decide to move a little so she can find out if one of Gabor's thrown knives is better than a young man's...? Will Gabor ever decide to try something other than a knife with which to intrigue Adele? Will Leconte's amusing mixture of luck, cold steel, eroticism, clever dialogue and shrewd acting come to a happy ending? When things begin to edge a little too close to what passes as seriousness in the movies, about three-quarters of the way through, Leconte has the good sense to pull back. This, after all, is a quirky romantic comedy done with flourishes and knives.
Daniel Auteuil, one of the screen's great actors, manages to make of Gabor a man with an interestingly unspoken life for us to think about. When a movie depends on quick, clever dialogue, it needs to be delivered matter-of-factly, with no delays for glances, sighs or eye work. Auteuil's matter-of-factness is as deliberately amusing as his lines. Paradis, on the other hand, must make this young woman who lies down so willingly someone we like. Not only does Paradis give us pleasure in sex, when she's around she makes us feel almost young, innocent and erotic ourselves. And how nice it is to see a beautiful star actress without perfect teeth.
Some critics have noted the several affectionate references to well known French films Leconte places in The Girl on the Bridge. I wouldn't know. I was too busy enjoying the movie. However, for those who might be intrigued enough to watch some of Leconte's other movies, he'll give you a variety of emotions to deal with. My favorites include Monsieur Hire, full of uneasiness and uncomfortable feelings; The Widow of Saint-Pierre, which comes close to tragedy; Ridicule, as malicious and amusing as you could wish; and my favorite to date, Man on the Train, a wonderful, thoughtful movie of sadness, regret and fulfillment.