In celebration of Leos Carax’s first film in thirteen years, “Holy Motors”, MIFF is presenting a retrospective of Carax’s entire oeuvre. The first they screened was his third film, made in 1991, the rather strange love story “The Lovers On The Bridge”.
The setting of the film is Paris’s oldest bridge, the Pont-Neuf, which is under repair and being restored after becoming unsafe for both pedestrians and cars alike. Living on the dilapidated bridge are a couple of homeless citizens, among them a troubled and lonely tramp, Alex (Denis Lavant), and a young runaway, Michele (Juliette Binoche) who is suffering from a degenerating eye disease and is slowly going blind. The two end up falling in love and end up coming up with a con that could make the couple a load of money. Throughout the film fate continually attempts to separate the couple, but Alex always finds a way to keep Michele from leaving him and the bridge.
This was a strange film that had both moments of genius and moments that absolutely irritated me. When the film began I was not sure that I was going to enjoy spending two hours in the company of these characters because they are initially quite unappealing and self-centered, and the idea of creating a love story between these homeless souls was an interesting and brave choice. However as the film progresses, and compliments to Carax’s ability to illicit such truthful moments of genuine emotion from his cast, that you end up finding yourself caring about these incredibly flawed characters and the romance that is building between them.
Performances between Lavant and Binoche are tops and add significantly to the quality of the film. They are so raw in their emotions and transparent in their pain. We are talking about seasoned professionals here so we should not be surprised by this, but they really create well rounded and layered if sometimes unlikable characters out of Alex and Michele.
There are a couple of truly outstanding scenes in “The Lovers On The Bridge” such as when Alex and Michele steal a police boat and water-ski down the river amongst a massive fireworks display, and a crazy song and dance number on the bridge again during the fireworks. Carax even flirts with the surreal in a scene when the couple gets seriously drunk and he changes the scale of the set so the actors look tiny in their surroundings. It is a wonderfully staged moment. Another visual moment that I loved is when Alex sets all of the subway posters alight with him standing in the middle of the inferno.
Whilst watching the film I kept thinking that it must have cost a fortune to make, but I had no idea that at the time of its production “The Lovers On The Bridge” was the most expensive film in French history. Carax had the entire bridge re-built after delays in the production start time caused him to lose the permission he had been granted to shoot on the real Pont-Neuf Bridge. They have done an amazing job with the recreation of it because never once did I not believe that this was anything but the real thing, it just oozed authenticity.
Visually the film is surprisingly beautiful compared to the landscape where the action of the film takes place in. Alex and Michele live in a dirty world, and this is definitely represented truthfully, but amazingly the film is still beautiful to look at.
Overall, while I felt the film was a little overlong and the characters occasionally annoyed me with their constant selfishness, I found “The Lovers On The Bridge” to be a richly rewarding experience and a nice entry into Leos Carax cinematic world.