Published Aug 10, 2013The Lovers on the Bridge, Leos Carax's final instalment in the "l'amour fou" (or "Alex"), trilogy, is, like its predecessor Mauvais Sang, a variation and attempted improvement on the same themes and concepts. Having found a more grounded and specific voice of his own with Sang, one partially removed from the regurgitated tenets of the French New Wave pretense demonstrated in Boy Meets Girl, he maintained what worked about his style—passionate, emotionally superlative, experiential filmmaking—while making his particular preoccupation with reckless, dangerous, all-encompassing love more accessible and cohesive to an audience trying to interpret his emotional whims.
Removing some, but not all, of his oblique expressionism and jarring, contrapuntal visual and audio juxtapositions and experiential interpretations, he constructed a surprisingly straightforward and simple narrative comprised of two lost souls finding love on France's oldest bridge, the Pont Neuf, while it was in a state of disrepair.
Alex (Denis Lavant), an alcoholic circus performer, still performs occasional feats in a busker capacity, when not drowning out his days in a drunken haze. Michelle (Juliette Binoche), a visual artist with a degenerative eye condition, struggles with purpose and performative social expectation, leading her to seek solace and escape on the bridge.
Their gradual connection, one that's self-sustaining and imperative for Alex while exacerbating the impulsive and dangerous sensibilities of Michelle, is what defines and shapes this treatise on reaching the limits of passion and indulgence. Living outside of social constraints, their influence on each other becomes simultaneously perilous and exciting, culminating casual acts of alcoholic abandon, as well as theft, violence and even murder.
But Carax isn't interested in creating a moral admonitory; he's far more concerned with capturing larger than life feelings on a cinematic canvas, which is, quite literally, a larger than life presentation of the world. Just as his earlier works featured spellbinding sequences involving skydiving or Alex running and flipping through the streets to David Bowie's "Modern Love," Bridge feeds on these fits of fancy, eventually reaching the heights of Carax's visual metaphors with a drunken bridge dance and waterskiing montage where a backdrop of perpetually exploding fireworks exaggerates the effervescent, hyper-dramatized feeling of being alive.
Of course, since these rare moments of riveting excitement are unsustainable in life, the outside world continues to encroach on the young lovers, threatening to retrieve Michelle and bring her back into reality. Again, this is treated with an extremist disposition—Alex burns the hundreds of posters asking the community to report any sightings of the missing Michelle—representing the pain and frustration of trying to maintain and sustain a passion that, like everything else, will eventually fade away.
This unapologetic heartfelt presentation of being alive and feeling every moment is particularly moving when removed from Carax's earlier, youthful contrivances. Here, he's wearing his heart on his sleeve and sharing with the world the terror and excitement of love with an intensity that is difficult to communicate on film.
This romanticized vision is one that ultimately defines Carax as an auteur, even in his most recent works (Holy Motors) where the death of traditional cinema motivates him to make a plea for the beauty and wonder of celluloid by indulging in its history of greatness. Fortunately, for him and us, the medium hasn't died out quite yet and there are works like The Lovers on the Bridge to remind us all of the magic that can unfold before our eyes in cinematic form.
The Lovers on the Bridge screens as part of the Modern Love: The Films of Leos Carax retrospective at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on August 11th, 2013 at 4:30pm. (Miramax)