The Girl on the Bridge has a lot to recommend it, including some great performances, lively dialogue, and rich cinematography. However, the movie has a gratuitously artsy sheen about it. It would not be unfair to call The Girl on the Bridge pretentious.
This Girl’s Life
R for sex
The film opens on Adele (Vanessa Paradis) explaining her life and her personality to a parole board (or psychologists, we never really know). Her promiscuity, she explains, stems from her youth, when she believed that life didn’t begin until after losing one’s virginity. Her deep sense of loneliness, she says, is comparable to being at a train station, where everyone is purposefully rushing to important places, except for her.
This is the girl who Gabor finds on a bridge, ready to jump. Gabor (Daniel Auteuil) is a performer, a knife-thrower, who picks up his assistants on bridges, he says, because they are not afraid to die. Reluctant at first, Adele agrees to be his target. The two become good friends. And even though Adele is promiscuous (she says she likes to “try on men”), their relationship never becomes sexual.
Gabor tries to foster self-esteem in Adele. He tells her that she is good luck, not bad. They travel to Monaco where he spends a fortune on her, getting her dressed and coiffed to be a beautiful knife-thrower’s assistant. As her confidence grows, so does her luck, and after their show, she wins a fortune for them at the roulette wheel.
There is a literary movement called “magical realism,” which has magical, inexplicable events set against realistic settings and characters. The Girl on the Bridge falls into this category.
A piece of the magic involves Adele’s incredible streak of luck. Time after time, the roulette wheel comes up double-zero as Adele laughs and smiles. Another piece is the deep telepathic connection between the two main characters. As she’s winning at roulette, Gabor, in another room, guides and encourages her as though he were right next to her.
This telepathic connection seems magical (i.e., unreal), but it makes emotional sense. These two people love each other dearly (they have great on-screen chemistry). They share optimism, hope, and respect in an indifferent world. They don’t share sex with each other, but their telepathy and good fortune seem to make up for it.
But one magical phenomenon just doesn’t seem to fit.
Less Plausible than Crash
Instead of sex, their relationship is consummated in the knife-throwing act. Gabor gets a determined, steely stare, focusing his whole attention on his target. Adele writhes in pleasure when a knife thunks into the wood next to her. Afterwards, their shy, loving ritual is for him to put a single band-aid on the inevitable little scratch she got from a knife that got too close.
This concept of knife-throwing as sex did not make emotional sense; in fact, it was distracting. It seemed even less plausible than the connection made in Crash between traffic accidents and sex. And yet, this surrogate sex is such a big part of the film that one can only wonder what artistic statement the screenwriter and director were trying to make. And once the film has you consciously thinking about the director’s artistic message, it’s fair to call it pretentious.
And once the notion that the film was pretentious was in my head, I began to wonder why it was shot in black and white. It wasn’t for budgetary reasons (like Clerks). It wasn’t for historical reasons (like Schindler’s List). It wasn’t to emphasize a theme in the plot (like Suture). It was just a filmmaker’s gratuitous artsy flourish.
So what started out as a charming, quirky love story became frustrating and difficult. I can’t say whether the charm of the love story outweighed the pretentiousness of the director. Most people will say it did, I think. But I was unprepared for artsy, and it caught me off guard.
If you go, enjoy it more than I did.