Craggy Daniel Auteuil saves suicidal Vanessa Paradis only to use her as a human pin cushion. Leconte, love and Legend’s new R1 disc reviewed by John…
The term platonic has come to mean something rather sexless and unromantic. When friends want to declare their relationships clear from the messy business of sexuality, the word springs to mind as something morally pure and as a darned good negation of affection complicated by attraction. Many a potential lover has been kept at a safe distance because of the modern usage, but the original meaning was something that neither excluded romance or sex. Platonic love was about two parts of the same whole finding each other so that they could together become greater than their individual selves, the two parts would find spiritual fulfillment, and, indeed, a refuge from the uninspired and material world.In Patrice Leconte’s La Fille sur le Pont, two people find each other and act out a story of platonic love between the bridges of Paris and Turkey. Both are losers in love and life, both have terrible luck on their own, and both are suicidal; Adele and Gabor meet their fate whilst craving oblivion. Gabor fails to talk Adele out of a leap into the Seine, and follows her into the icy depths with an odd proposal: if she wants to die, why not do it helping his knife throwing act as his assistant, what has she got to lose?
Soon both are finding that their luck is changing, and their good fortune together extends to the act becoming a blindfold marvel and the roulette wheels of Europe being at their mercy. Despite their success, Adele still throws herself at useless men, and Gabor keeps the world at a distance despite what Adele makes him feel. They begin to accept that the knife throwing and a supernatural sympathy binds them in spirit. Needing a more physical intimacy, Adele finds herself escaping him in another’s arms and with her old awful luck returning as well. Apart from his target, Gabor can no longer throw straight and events lead him to desperation before the story comes full circle above the Bosphorus.Throughout his career, Patrice Leconte has been interested in partnerships of the most unlikely kind. In Monsieur Hire, there was the willing victim and weirdo, Michel Blanc, and the femme fatale, Sandrine Bonnaire; in the Hairdresser’s Husband, there was Rochefort and his idealised wife, scared of the thought of the end of his love; and the accountant turned psychiatrist and his sole mistaken patient in Intimate Strangers. His films have not purely been concerned with sensual and romantic relationships either as he has explored the qualities of loyalty, attraction, and chance that bring human beings together. La Fille sur le Pont is perhaps his most accessible and engaging treatment of these ideas. It is passionate, superbly drawn and appealing to some of the most beautiful ideas that our romantic selves can dream up.
The film is also as peculiarly sensual as any of the films I mention above. The passionate sympathy between our platonic lovers is acted out through telepathic conversations and a transference of passion within the knife throwing sequences. Each sequence of Gabor hurling the cutlery has an erotic tension which balances the closeness of the peril with the care of the thrower, and, as the object of his aim, Adele writhes at the intimacy of the blades. In contrast, her many sexual liaisons are short-lived, squalid, and momentarily diverting – despite her handsome suitors, she only really comes alive when Gabor takes aim.
Still despite this shared intimacy, the two remain conscious that they could be apart because of the toss of a coin or a change of heart. When the two do separate, Leconte ensures that chance and significance are written large with the introduction of Takis. Takis is a newlywed on a honeymoon cruise when he meets the two entertainers, he recognises a lighter as his own that Gabor has received as a token from Adele. Significantly, Gabor offers up this affectionate gift and then through consequence loses the woman who gave it him. Leconte efficiently shows the exchange of Adele between the men as first we see the two men chatting, next they are joined by Adele looking for Gabor’s affection, and then Takis and Adele are left together by Gabor who seems to let the other man provide what he feels he shouldn’t. From this chance, and this choice, things unravel and the two halves of this star-crossed couple are pulled apart.The story of Gabor and Adele is a black and white fantasy of dark depths, catastrophes, and glitzy unlikely glamour. Normal or unremarkable people are non-existent and nothing is mediocre, it’s all either awful or terrific. With a sense of the circus and the surreal, this is the most cartoon-like of Leconte’s films and even if he doesn’t use storyboards, you will be struck by the deliberately framed images he conjures up as we follow the rise and fall of two losers. He composes moments of interchange where the two lover’s faces switch and substitute for one another, and the very conclusion is a superb example of this as the two faces seem to merge and a simple and profound moment is experienced through both our protagonists eyes.
His couple are a beguiling match and the chemistry is remarkable. Auteuil is as great as he always is, suggesting self loathing and hidden hurt, and Paradis is fragile, impulsive, and never more beautiful. Their differences render them an unlikely couple but their rapport is never questionable. Jean Marie-Dreujou’s photography is frequently impressive and careful never to become static, and the great Marianne Faithfull’s song “Who will take my dreams away” has never been better deployed.
Plato knew something that Leconte shows that he appreciates, that true love is not sex with manners like every popular romantic comedy you could see. It’s about sheltering against fate, it’s about forgetting your own headlong rush towards the grave because you feel more for someone else’s, it’s about companionship and unspoken trust. It’s about being better together because apart the world is full of mister wrongs and misfortune. And for all the Greek philosophy, it’s about choosing the right turn and being lucky, or undoing your mistakes whilst you still can. Leconte portrays this spirit better than any director I know, and La Fille sur le Pont is his finest romance.
Legend have licensed the film from Paramount in the US and present it here as a single layer region one release. The movie is presented at original aspect ratio and the film comes without extras and with a static menu offering only Play and Scene Select options. The film has previously been issued by Pathé in this country and in Australia in English friendly versions, and the Pathe disc has previously been reviewed in these quarters by Raphael Pour-Hashemi whose review is linked to in the side-panel. Despite having the correct running time for a NTSC release, I believe that this interlaced presentation has been taken from a standards conversion as you can see the graphic combing and motion shake revealed in the above screen-shot. Some frames suffer from weak contrast and the whole film appears less bright than you would like for what is a marvel of black and white cinematography. I noticed a couple of instances of aliasing and some small compression artifacts which undermine the sharp picture, and anyone owning the R2 disc will not need to replace their existing copy with this one. The audio track is simple stereo which is crisp and well balanced, and music and voices are never subject to distortion along with a complete lack of hiss, pop or rumbling. Again though, the R2 disc comes with a strong 5.1 track. English subtitles here are easy to read but impossible to remove.
This marvelous film has not yet got the treatment on DVD I would like for it. Legend’s treatment is flawed but the price is very reasonable if you can’t get your hands on the R2 disc. If you only ever see one French film about lovers on a bridge then, with all due respect to Leos Carax, this is the one.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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