Le Pont du Nord (1981)

9 09 2008

A total masterpiece that not only rivals, but also surpasses the greatness of Merry-Go-Round, which was my favorite Rivette film until now. Basically everything that I love about Rivette’s bizarre cinematic world is brought to the forefront here. Plenty of odd unsolvable mysteries executed in an ultra-kinetic and spontaneous way. Even with the very grainy stock, William Lubtchansky brings some of the most wonderful images I’ve ever seen in any Rivette film. Considering how consistent Lubtchansky is, this is a ridiculously big claim, but that only reinforces what an accomplishment this is. It manages to capture the spontaneity of Celine and Julie with the visual beauty of Love on the Ground. In other words, this is Rivette at his very, very best.

Two women, Marie and Baptiste, bump into to each other three times in the course of one day and almost by default, form a tight bond. Marie has her mind on other things, though, the most obvious one being her lover, Julien, who she plans to reunite with following her stay in prison. Baptiste, seemingly skilled in some sort of martial art, follows her around and notices that Julien’s briefcase was switched by the film’s four character, Max. The two women reunite and gain access to the briefcase which features a map that seems to turn the city of Paris into a board game.

I’ve said before and I’ll probably say it sometime in a future, but describing all the chaos present in Rivette’s film, especially this one, is nearly impossible. Like many of his films from this time period, there’s plenty of conventional mystery aspects thrown in, but they are all just another intelligently designed contribution to complete craziness. As with Merry-Go-Round and Celine and Julie Go Boating, it is the unmatched sense of spontaneity that Rivette creates (and maintains) that heightens said craziness. Perhaps I’m stressing the overall “bizarre” factor of the film and not focusing enough on just how fascinating and wonderful all the performances are. Bulle Ogier, as usual, is beautiful and captivating. Her daughter is goofy, but charming as hell. The weight that both of them carry cannot be stressed enough and yet, both performance are absolutely flawless.

The cinematography here is a bit more grainy than in both Merry-Go-Round and Celine and Julie, which make up something of a personal trilogy for myself, if only for the fact that they are by far my three favorite Rivette films. But anyway, the stock here is not the best, but somehow the ultra-grainess begins to blend into one’s subconcious, which leads to a whole different kind of cinematic beauty. Calling it “documentary-esque” seems almost like an understatement. I’ve never seen any one film be as kinetic and viscerally experienced as this, except for maybe Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small, which would make up a bizarre yet fitting double-bill. Like Herzog’s Dwarf-filled masterpiece, Le Pont du Nord is the sort of film that words can’t do justice for. In other words, go out and watch it right now!

I feel obligated to add in one more tidbit about this wonderful film: it perfectly unites almost all of Rivette’s work. The lovers here are named Marie and Julien, which obviously brings to mind Rivette’s much later (and much more different) masterpiece. It’s almost as though the characters are being fleshed out through a completely different movie, which seems to be the perfect way to define an “autuer.” This not only enriches the actual experience of watching Le Pont du Nord but also my opinion of Rivette’s other films, even The Nun.

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3 responses

9 09 2008
gaston monescu

Great review!!! How did you watch this? Your words make me want to watch this more than Out 1(s) or L’Amour Fou.

10 09 2008
Jake Savage

There’s a rip of the Japanese DVD at KG and there’s custom English subtitles too.

11 09 2008
Michael Kerpan

I have loved (or liked a lot) every Rivette film I have seen (which is _almost_ everything) — but from my first viewing (in 2001 or 2002) until now, Pont du Nord has been my dolid favorite of all.

If these screenshots are from the Japanese DVD, I guess I can continue to live with my French video without _too_ much dismay (at least until we get a bigger television).

Rivette and the Ogiers did make a companion piece quasi-docuementary called Paris s’en va — but it has never been available on video or DVD — and doesn’t ever seem to be screened.

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