Monday, May 16, 2011

Lovers on the Bridge (Les amants du Pont-Neuf) -- self-seeking love

Director: Leos Carax, 1991. (R)

The film’s title, Lovers on the Bridge, connotes images of a beautiful romance set against the dreamy arches of the Pont Neuf, Paris’ oldest bridge. This is not quite the case. Carax’ film is a love story of sorts, but between two vagrants who live on the bridge. Rather than suave and sophisticated, the protagonists are shabby street people. This is the seamy side of the city of love.

Alex (Denis Levant) is a fire-breather, a street performer who makes a meager living selling his act, rifling through garbage cans for tossed out food, and stealing the odd fresh fish to complement his diet. Nights, he climbs over the fences sealing off the bridge for ongoing repair work. The bridge is where he lives. His only friend, Hans (Klaus-Michael Gruber), an older hobo, doles out the drugs that allow him to sleep. Alex is, after all, addicted to drugs and alcohol. We learn this early on, when he collapses in the middle of a Paris street; he is picked up by the police and taken to a recovery center.

Michele (Juliette Binoche, Blue) is another street urchin, a woman walking the street with a portfolio under her arm. An artist, she finds herself on Pont Neuf sleeping in the spot where Alex normally sleeps. And she has penciled a sketch of him from the memory of an earlier encounter. This piques his interest, and, voila, a relationship begins.

As the movie progresses, Michele reveals that her eyesight is deteriorating – she is going blind. With her helplessness increasing, she finds herself more and more dependent on Alex. When he discovers that there is hope for her; he fails to let her know, fearing that she will leave him if she becomes healed.

It is purported that both leads have mysterious pasts, and they may. But the film never takes the time to reveal them to us. We learn little about either Alex or Michele, and never understand why they are living on the street.

Writer-director Carax uses striking color and stunning visual angles, along with some surreal images, but all to little effect. He cannot add warmth to the two main (and one minor) characters. They are cold and unlovable. Ultimately, we really don’t care what happens to them.

Moreover, the film suggests that Alex and Michele are in love. But both seem manipulative in this relationship to the degree that love is not the correct term. Alex’ desire for Michele seems more lustful, sexual, and his love is almost imprisoning. She is more a captive of his. Michele, on the other hand, seems needy and dependent, drawing near to Alex for the help he can give her.

True love is neither manipulative nor imprisoning. The apostle Paul spoke of love to the Corinthian church:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails
(1 Cor. 13:4-8). What Alex and Michele have is a self-seeking relationship, one that protects self, not the other. It is not love. These are not true lovers on the bridge. Even the ending, which offers a pair of twists does not really point to true love.

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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