Film Review: Le Pont du Nord

The very slight charms of this picaresque, quite extended two-character stroll through Paris may well elude all but the most committed Jacques Rivette devotees.
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The city of Paris is the real star of Jacques Rivette’s 1981 Le Pont du Nord, just now getting a New York commercial release. Of course, this queen of all burgs has featured prominently in countless other films, but this is an absolute flaneur’s delight, and in no other has she been featured so front and center, in all her bridge-abundant, sculpted elegance and fascinating, multi-epoch architectural mash-up.

The fact that the actual plot of the film is a bit of shaggy-dog total nonsense with a very improvised feel to it only makes the enduring visual reality of Paris all the more vital here, as something the perhaps confused and exasperated viewer can at least cling to and savor. The mother-daughter actress team of Bulle Ogier and young Pascale (who tragically died three years after this film, at the age of 25) helped to write the script, which revolves around the two as unlikely, sudden friends somehow caught up in a mysterious web of crime as they get to know each other while strolling through the town.

Although blood-related, the two are a total contrast, with Bulle (playing Marie) being petite, cherubic and blonde while Pascale (as Baptiste) is tall, dark and lean with the enormous-eyed, melancholy and angular beauty of a young Anouk Aimee. Behaviorally, they are as night and day as well, with the earthbound Marie seriously bent on getting to the bottom of all the intrigue involving her shady, enigmatic hood of a boyfriend, Julien (the fey Pierre Clémenti, strangely cast), while airy-fairy Baptiste is a dippy and extroverted free spirit, with her incessant martial-arts moves and eccentric dancing along to the headphones plastered to her ears.

Hard-core, semiotic-crazed Rivette fans claim to see all manner of meaning in the auteur’s trademark usage of symbols and signs which litter the exposition, but for anyone else, this effort may well prove a very twee trial to endure. For all the many off-the-cuff aphorisms the characters spout, you really never get to know them (probably because, as Gertrude Stein, once famously stated, “There is no there there”) and Baptiste, in particular, is so willfully peculiar that you may well feel like shaking her out of all that supposed devastatingly charming spontaneity. Oh well, there is always Paree to savor, with a felicitous use of dashing Astor Piazzolla music, and for someone like me who dearly misses the place ever since the euro went stratospheric in comparison to our dollar, the film makes for something of a droll, if slightly dull, little vacation.