A scene from 'Girl on the Bridge'
Courtesy Photo
**1/2 stars In French with English subtitles
92 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, August 18, 2000
Directed by Patrice Leconte

Starring Daniel Auteuil & Vanessa Paradis


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Suicidal girl finds trust in sensual, symbiotic kinship with knife-thrower who takes her on as his target

By Rob Blackwelder

Movies about beautiful young women trying to find themselves are not uncommon, and neither are movies about September-May romances. But while the French import "Girl on the Bridge" could be crowbarred into one or both of these genres, to do so would be a disservice to this film since there is nothing whatsoever common about it.

A lyrical, almost surreal musing on fate and the roles people play in each others' lives, it's the story of a peculiarly symbiotic relationship between an impulsive, suicidal girl (French model/singer/actress Vanessa Paradis) and a fatigued, melancholy stranger who rescues her from jumping off a bridge by showing her how her luck can change.

The stranger (Daniel Auteuil, "Lucie Aubrac") is a knife thrower by trade and he has a weird habit of recruiting as his assistants troubled women who literally have nothing to lose. After all, if you're about to jump to your death anyway, what's a few knives tossed at your head?

The intense, kindly, haggard Gabor (Auteuil) rescues the wounded, manic Adele (Paradis) and she becomes part of his act, putting her life in his hands night after night in increasingly dangerous performances that become an intimate, eroticized substitute for sex in their romantic, but non-physical, relationship.

Intense and absorbing, "Girl on the Bridge" is something of a tarnished fairy tale awash in symbolism and sensuality as Gabor guides the still-tender Adele to Monaco and other exotic locales for knife-throwing gigs in casinos and circuses. Director Patrice Leconte ("Monsieur Hire," "Ridicule") lends the film an enigmatic magical realism through the almost clairvoyant connection between these spiritual lovers and through shooting this vaguely modern story in brisk black-and-white cinematography.

Leconte takes a few artistic and narrative missteps that keep "Girl" from realizing its full potential (for example, the sexualization of the knife throwing eventually borders on absurd). But the investment in the characters is complete enough that if you get wrapped up in the story, such problems are largely forgivable.

Stern, sad, frayed but in may ways profound, Gabor is compelling, in part because as he comes to realize how much he cares for Adele, the audience realizes he is more lonely, lost and desperate than any of these "basket cases broken beyond repair" that he saves from themselves to become his assistants. Auteuil won a César award for this performance, and it was well deserved.

Paradis keeps pace, though, with her yielding, naked portrayal of Adele's deep insecurities and her continuing reliance on the affections of men for emotional validation (at a circus in Monaco she goes to bed with a contortionist).

And when she begins to back away from her relationship from Gabor, their metaphysical connection only grows.

Because of a few sudden and awkward turns in the last reels, "Girl on the Bridge" feels a little wanting when the credits roll -- as if something important might have been left out. But that slight disappointment fades, leaving mostly potent, penetrating memories of the film's depth and luminosity.

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