Review: Le Pont du Nord

Rivette’s Le Pont du Nord remains a stimulating document of a city in flux.

Le Pont du Nord
Photo: BAMcinématek

Mother and daughter performers Bulle and Pascale Ogier star as an appropriately mismatched duo in Jacques Rivette’s inventive outdoor fantasy Le Pont du Nord. Much like Bulle’s claustrophobic character Marie, Rivette’s film can’t bear to enter enclosed spaces: in one of its best scenes (captured in a single, breathless long take) Marie swoons and sways her way through an extended elevated train ride, and the film seems to share in her heady mindset, never quite knowing if its setting (a Paris slowly but surely succumbing to modernization) is a paradise or an inferno. It’s an intentionally amateur production through and through—even the boom mic intrudes now and again, perversely heightening the sense of fantasy while simultaneously demolishing an already tenuous fourth wall. As the knife-wielding kung-fu revolutionary Baptiste, the late Pascale Ogier (who would later star in Eric Rohmer’s Full Moon in Paris) proves to be Rivette’s finest and strangest leading lady since Juliet Berto. It’s hard to believe this angular, extroverted brunette is the real-life blood relative of her categorically more calm and collected blond co-star—in both physicality and temperament they are decidedly antithetical, proving the old adage that opposites do indeed attract. Rivette’s fascination with conspiracies and complots is distinctly more shaky in Le Pont du Nord (he’s only a few steps removed from Love on the Ground’s head-long plunge into twee intellectual mysticism), but the film, which takes place just before the elections that toppled French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, is saved both by its performers and by the tactile qualities of its location photography. Even when the narrative irrevocably, and quite brilliantly, breaks down (with Marie succumbing to the story’s mechanics while Baptiste unwittingly leaves them behind), Le Pont du Nord remains a stimulating document of a city in flux.

 Cast: Bulle Ogier, Pascale Ogier, Pierre Clémenti, Jean-François Stévenin, Benjamin Baltimore, Steve Baës, Joe Dann, Mathieu Schiffman, Antoine Gurevitch, Julien Lidsky, Marc Truscelli  Director: Jacques Rivette  Screenwriter: Bulle Ogier, Pascale Ogier, Suzanne Schiffman, Jacques Rivette, Jérôme Prieur  Running Time: 131 min  Rating: NR  Year: 1981  Buy: Video

Keith Uhlich

Keith Uhlich's writing has been published in The Hollywood Reporter, BBC, and Reverse Shot, among other publications. He is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle.

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