A Couple Meets on a Bridge; Will They Live or Die Together?

Patrice Leconte’s Girl on the Bridge , from a screenplay by Serge Frydman, is a darkly romantic film that takes many chances with its two lead performers, Vanessa Paradis as the suicidal Adele, weary of all the bad choices she has made in her life, and Daniel Auteuil as Gabor, a once-virtuoso knife-thrower who has lost his flair since being abandoned by his partner. When the two meet in the title scene, Gabor attempts to persuade Adele to join his circus-type act. She hesitates for a few moments and then jumps. He jumps after her, and they are both rushed to a hospital. What we don’t know is that Gabor himself was contemplating suicide on the bridge when he encountered Adele.

Still, the best scene of the film is the very first-a surreal courtroom sequence in which Adele describes her endless bad luck in relationships. A dimly lit jury in the background provides a Kafkaesque motivation for her eventual suicide attempt. Unfortunately, nothing else in the film matches Adele’s eloquent opening confession.

Adele becomes Gabor’s partner in knife throwing, but resumes her promiscuous alliances with other men in the absence of any explicit sensual commitment from Gabor. Whether alone or in tandem, the pair find themselves perpetually on the move, bankrupt, shipwrecked, abandoned, separated and reunited, through a variety of adventures and misadventures. Meanwhile, the filmmakers have chosen to resort to black and white in what is usually considered a “realist” stratagem, and yet they mix up the mise-en-scène with Felliniesque exuberance.

Somehow, it just doesn’t add up. Why does Gabor not make more of a play for Adele until it is almost too late? And why is Adele so persistently promiscuous? One gets the feeling that the movie is being made up as it goes along, which is not unusual in these frenzied times, but not from the director of Monsieur Hire (1989) and The Hairdresser’s Husband (1990). Still, Girl on the Bridge has won all sorts of awards from the French film industry.

There are also several oddities in Gabor’s act, including the frequent nicks on Adele’s skin, as if some ritual were intended. Yet Adele never complains, and one is never quite sure what she suspects. The one time Adele runs off with a lover, and Gabor is forced to use a substitute, the result is disastrous though not fatal. Adele doesn’t have much luck either with her frequent liaisons.

By the time Gabor and Adele run through all their varied misadventures, they seem permanently reunited, but it is not entirely clear whether they have chosen to live together or die together. Either way, it doesn’t seem worth all the trouble.

Keep Your Eye On the Girl With the Right Hook

Allan Moyle’s New Waterford Girl , from a screenplay by Tricia Fish, strikes me as a curious, misleadingly promoted piece of cinema dealing with a 15-year-old overachieving young girl named Mooney Pottie (Diane Balaban). Moonie is trapped in the coal-mining town of New Waterford, Canada, one of five kids in a noisy Irish Catholic family growing up in the mid-1970’s. She is the only one who has ever read a book. One day a newcomer from the Bronx named Lou Benzoa (Tara Sencero-Nairn) moves in next door with her mother Midge (Cathy Moriarty), and the plot thickens, which is to say that Mooney and Lou become virtually inseparable-and this is my problem.

The whole film takes place in New Waterford, and though Mooney finally escapes to the big city of New York, I don’t think the movie is strictly about Mooney at all. I’d never seen either of the actresses who play Mooney or Lou before I saw New Waterford Girl , and perhaps because I wasn’t expecting much from a supposedly secondary character, I found myself unable to take my eyes off Lou whenever she was on the screen, with or without Mooney. If the movie had been called New Waterford Girls , I might have been less distracted by the expertness with which Lou steals every scene from Mooney.

Not only is Lou prettier and more striking than Mooney, she has the weird gift of knocking boys out cold with her clenched fist. When she is challenged by a local bully to a contest in the ring, after a hesitant start she proceeds to knock him out, much to the joy of her mother and all the other hitherto-bullied girls in town. Even Mooney seems to approve, though I couldn’t help wondering what she really thought of Lou’s stealing every scene they shared together. I don’t wish to make too much of this act of larceny in an admittedly minor attraction. Still, I can’t help wondering how Lou managed to get away with it, if indeed I am alone in crediting Lou with an act of grand larceny.

The rest of the movie is surprisingly gentle and warm-hearted in dealing with the supposedly backward inhabitants of New Waterford, even in the strangely patronized mid-70’s. What I suspect is a resurgence of revenge against the somebodies of yesteryear who once tortured or at least didn’t appreciate today’s somebodies. My main problem with this film is similar to the complaint that George Orwell raised with Dickens’ work: How were his low-born child heroes so remarkably well-spoken? Yet there remains a limit to cruelty in Canada, which may be why Canadians strike many Americans as simply too good to be true. Indeed, if it were not for the strange histrionic tension between Mooney and Lou, New Waterford Girl would have seemed a completely mystifying entertainment.

Heckerling Graduates-And Fails

Amy Heckerling’s Loser gets a few laughs in the early stages of a country bumpkin’s initiation into New York City campus life. Paul Tannek (Jason Biggs), the clueless college freshman on a scholarship, is immediately cursed with three roommates from hell. Not only do these three preppy types never study, they import illegal drugs with which to seduce girls, and gang up on Paul by lying about his alleged racism to get him kicked out of their dorm. After a while, enough is more than enough, but Paul keeps taking it on the chin from the very same people who keep shamelessly exploiting him.

Meanwhile, Dora Diamond (Mena Suvari), the private punching bag of English Lit professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear), struggles to pay her tuition with a sleazy job as a scantily clad waitress. Dora should be nicknamed “Dumb Dora” for all the insults she absorbs from Alcott (no relation to Louisa May). Between them, Paul and Dora manage to be victimized in so many ways that when they finally get together, they are only a few seconds from a final clinch and fade-out.

I expected more from Ms. Heckerling after Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless , but perhaps there is a hidden corruption at work in what used to be a more balanced conflict between good and evil. Indeed, it takes so long for Dora to realize how much contempt Alcott feels for her that it is hard to see what she uses for self-esteem. As for Paul, he is at least on to the smarmy professor before Dora, but what keeps him from blowing the whistle on such a sleazebag? Yet that is not really the point.

Between them, Paul and Dora do not seem to have a single friend in the world. Perhaps that is the real reason for the quick fade-out after the sudden happy ending. Something is missing from the movie, something we used to expect as part of academic bonding. As it is, we seem to expect so little from each other that we are virtually cast adrift with no hope of lasting community.