Le Pont du Nord

Every movie is its own miniature universe, complete with its own set of internal logic. When you sit down to watch one, your brain instantly tries to make sense of the world you’ve been thrust into- who the characters are, what their motivation is, and what kind of a world do they inhabit? What makes sense for Jerry Lewis would never happen in a serious crime drama, and vice-versa. For all their genre-bending zaniness, the Coen Brothers remain very rule-driven; once you understand the rules of that particular world, you can be sure the film won’t betray its own logic in the last act.

With Jaques Rivette’s Le Pont du Nord, however, you get no such luxury. The naturalistic French New Wave vibe we start off with gives way quickly to a trippy and whimsical story focused on two women (the real life mother and daughter team of Bulle Ogier and Pascale Ogier) who keep bumping into each other by chance (or fate?) within the streets of Paris. As their relationship blossoms, the world around them crumbles (literally and figuratively), peeling away our sense of reality until there’s little left to grab onto. It is both a timeless fantastical portrait of Paris scored by Astor Piazzolla, and a tactile artifact of Paris in 1980-81, grounded in movie posters, ads, and rock albums of the era.

So many themes are at play here, like dangling streams for you to grasp at and muse about: Paris as a backdrop of decay, full of buildings being torn down in every scene, no matter where these women run to… a world of men playing their secret men games (criminals, guns, cryptic maps and conspiracies) while the women are relegated to navigating the ebbs and flows left in their wake… a Don Quixote undercurrent to our two protagonists who also seems to constantly teeter between reality and their own internal fantasies… there are a lot of commentaries going on, but none of them linear.

All of this adds up to something, though what that is up to the viewer to figure out. One thing that is clear here is how much of an influence this film, and perhaps Rivette’s work in general, has been on Jim Jarmusch: the post-modern spin on Hollywood genres peppered with oddball characters engaged in existential conversation, the deadpan sense of humor that barely registers but is unmistakably there… Jim’s work is his own, but boy, that DNA is clearly from here.

By the end, the actors seem to have broken out of their own characters, and the camera is self-consciously pointing out the artifice of this crazy story. While there’s plenty of existential meat for you to munch on, the obvious joy here is in the oddball chemistry that springs out between the two women. It’s the only constant throughout the film and the emotional grounding that makes the madness work. They may seem like the crazy ones, but in this world, they’re somehow the most sane.

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