The Lovers on the Bridge

on July 02, 1999 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
   An eight-year-old film that couldn't find an American distributor until Martin Scorsese got behind it, "Lovers on the Bridge" bursts with unflinching rawness in its depiction of a homeless couple residing in the rubble of Paris' Pont Neuf bridge during its restoration in 1989, the year of France's bicentennial. Artist Michele (a youthful Juliette Binoche, whose luminescence can't be buried beneath ratty hair and tattered clothing) stumbles onto the bridge with her cat and portfolio of unfinished sketches and paintings (done by Binoche herself). Her sight fading from a degenerative eye disease, Michele has escaped a comfortable home and nasty memories when laconic, alcoholic street performer Alex (Denis Lavant, who through much of the film eerily resembles a harder Billy Bob Thornton) discovers her asleep on his stone bench. Drawn to her despair and ravaged beauty, Alex scrutinizes her and becomes her protector--or jailer--as he gradually sabotages every possibility of her returning to her former life, even when it might mean the possibility of restoring her sight.
   Writer-director Leos Carax refuses to sentimentalize the desperation, degradation and peculiar dignity of the homeless while unraveling this unlikely but combustible romance. Suspended outside of the real world on their crumbling bridge, Michele and Alex live and edgy, reckless existence bordering on madness. Carax captures this fieriness literally against the backdrop of Paris's bicentennial celebrations. Dizzying camera work and editing and brutally honest acting keep the emotions powerfully real (Binoche won the European Film Awards Best Actress). But Carax stumbles about two thirds of the way into his story which sinks under its run-on length and inability to find a proper conclusion. Michele's anguish and fury is carefully constructed, but Alex's obsessive possessiveness and terrifying capacity for self destruction remain more a stubborn extension of adolescence than anything more, which proves disappointing. Despite its tragic undertones, the idyllic conclusion lacks the power punch this richly compelling tale demands and deserves.    Starring Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant. Directed and written by Leos Carax. A Miramax release. Drama. French language; subtitled. Running time: 129 min.
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