The Girl on the Bridge (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Robbins Recipe: Pretty Woman meets La Strada.

If you understand the references, you probably think that's a strange recipe, a bit like mixing mussels in white wine sauce with a chicken fried steak, and you'd be right. It's that kind of film. Where else but France could a major box office smash be a symbol-laden B&W adult fairy tale?

Vanessa Paradis, aka Mrs Depp, plays a despondent woman who is hanging out on a bridge in Paris, waiting to jump. Daniel Auteuil is a professional knife-thrower who trolls the bridges looking for just such women to use as his targets. What can he offer them? Well, maybe they'll enjoy the ride and he'll keep missing. But if he doesn't miss, what do they have to lose? They were going to commit suicide anyway.

Can't argue with that.

Or maybe you can, because she jumps anyway, but he rescues her and they begin their tour of the novelty act underbelly of Europe, in which the act becomes increasingly more daring. (She's behind a curtain, or on a spinning wheel on a cruise ship, with the motion of the waves an additional challenge). He does keep missing. His luck is the best it has ever been. So is hers. In fact, she goes on a major tear in casinos and lotteries, and soon they are transformed from pennilessness to great prosperity. In this part of the story, the film most closely approaches Pretty Woman, since Paradis undergoes make-overs, goes on shopping sprees, wins a sports car, etc. 


They never become romantically involved. Although it is obvious to us that they are in love, it is not obvious to them. Paradis, in fact, has numerous dalliances with pretty boys, contortionists, and (disastrously) a married man. Paradis and Autueil do have a certain pseudo-sexual relationship, however, and they occasionally slip off for a quickie. Not sex, but knife-throwing. Occasionally, the passion just overcomes them and they sneak off to a deserted barn, for example, where Auteuil throws a few knives into the slatted barn wall while Paradis stands in front of it, and the sun shines through it from behind. During these encounters, Paradis is visibly excited and the noises she makes are precisely and deliberately those of a woman in sexual passion. For his part, Auteuil stars out slowly and gently, then builds up the speed and force of his knife thrusts until only George W Bush could think that the scene is really about practicing a circus act.

They part briefly, and luck frowns on them both, but all the while they continue to communicate telepathically and we just know that they'll find the right bridge and meet again.

This movie is so impressive in so many ways that you'll probably be tempted to overlook the fact that it really is just a Gallic retelling of Pretty Woman with more imagination. The photography is spectacular, and its energy level is very high. Unlike arty European films with the languorous and endless single camera set-ups, this film is about high voltage and quick cuts. One of the cuts is a roller-coaster, and this seems to serve little purpose in the film other than more heavy-handed symbolism about trying to hang on through life's descents, but it serves as an apt metaphor for the film itself, which features quick mood shifts and rapid pacing. Autueil reminds me of my all-time favorite actor, James Cagney. Average looking guy, maybe even a touch on the ugly side, but with a special presence. Like Cagney, he talks too fast, walks too fast, smokes too fast, moves his hands too fast, and still manages to pull it all off without seeming artificial, as if he were simply a wave sweeping you along and making you travel at his speed or get dumped.

In addition to the blatant symbolism mentioned above, the director also gets into the whole Fellini image thing, and he rarely passes on the chance to show the couple's fellow itinerant vaudevillians - painted clowns, sideshow performers, elephants, contortionists, you name it. 

Some of the motion shots are impressive. The bridge of the title is photographed at one time from a speedboat passing underneath, a vertiginous and interesting shot made far more dramatic by the fact that it's in black and white at night, so it features light filling up a dark screen, then receding. The shot is repeated in the final scene, but with some major changes. This time it is daylight, the lighting is romantic, they are in love, and the boat is moving more slowly. My favorite shot in the film involves Autueil playing on the railroad tracks in front of a speeding train as it debouches from a tunnel. We don't realize until the critical moment that he is actually just barely beyond the point where the train switches off in another direction. Impressive, and imaginative.

The dialogue is also very clever, very existential and Euro-hip.

Is it a masterpiece? I don't know. I was impressed by it, as you can tell from what I've written, but you know what? After Paradis left Autueil and the cruise ship with her then-lover, my mind wandered. I had been so involved, and then the film just lost me. I started to think about something else, and read a couple things while the movie played, and couldn't stay focused on the film until the main couple reunited. Even at an economical 92 minutes, the film lost me briefly. 

VHS info from Amazon.

Not available on region 1 DVD. Other regions are available.

In addition, I can find no structural value to the prologue in which Paradis is sitting at a table, telling her story to some somber listeners. It seems to me that the film would have worked better by beginning and ending on a bridge.

Well, you should be able to determine whether you would like it. Some of you are never going to sit through a sub-titled B&W fairy tale film with so many Felliniesque touches. Some of you will find it so original, so inventive, that you'll be fascinated and mesmerized by it. You have to figure out where to pitch your camp.  

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Maltin 3/4.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. A perfect score. 100% positive overall, 100% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it a classic-level 7.6
  • With their dollars ... it was a smash in France with a box office of $20 million in that country alone. (Equivalent to the popularity of about a $100 million picture in the USA, because of the population difference.) In the USA, it did a couple million on 50 screens.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-. It does reach out beyond its predicable audience with a little bit for everyone, with magnificent photography, fast pacing, humor, and a romance. A masterpiece in some ways.

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