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TELLURIDE ’99 REVIEW: With a Dose of Fellini, Leconte’s Clever “Girl on the Bridge” Offers Giggles

TELLURIDE '99 REVIEW: With a Dose of Fellini, Leconte's Clever "Girl on the Bridge" Offers Giggles

TELLURIDE '99 REVIEW: With a Dose of Fellini, Leconte's Clever "Girl on the Bridge" Offers Giggles

by Margaret A. McGurk

Over the course of a 30-year career, Patrice Leconte has ventured across a
wide comic range, from giddy commercial fluff in the 1970’s to the
sophisticated satire of the Oscar-nominated “Ridicule” in 1996. Before he made his mark behind the camera (which he still operates himself), Leconte was a cartoonist. That perhaps explains why his comedies are united by a sense of the absurd expressed with almost juvenile playfulness. And play he does in “The Girl on the Bridge,” a new comedy that made its
North American debut at the Telluride Film Festival, shortly after Paramount
bought U.S. distribution rights.

Leconte and screenwriter Serge Frydman find fodder for their game in
eccentric characters, in the conventions of the romantic comedy, in the
history of the road movie. When it comes to toying with the audience, the
filmmakers turn downright impish.

The story follows the peculiar relationship between a knife-thrower named
Gabor (Daniel Auteuil) and Adele (Vanessa Paradis), the girl he meets when
she’s about to jump off a Paris bridge. She has nothing, does nothing, and
experienced nothing except shabby treatment by men. Gabor offers her a job
as the target in his knife-throwing act; she jumps anyway. He goes after
her. They both survive, so she decides to hit the road with him.

At once, they discover they can make magic. The act is a hit. Gabor’s hand
is steady. Adele can’t lose at the roulette table. They can read one
another’s minds. Their run of luck reaches giddy heights when Adele enters
an Italian raffle and wins a sports car, which they immediately run off the

Leconte knows what the audience expects to transpire between Gabor and
Adele: She is young and lucious; he is middle-aged and hungry; they are both
needy as newborns. And in their case, the romantic cliche “I’m no good
without you” is a matter of literal truth. But Leconte is interested in what
the audience expects chiefly as leverage for sly tricks of emotional
jujitsu. Leconte will consummate their bond, but not in a predictable way.

The weakness in their partnership is Adele’s taste for handsome young
men. In time, it pulls her away, sending Gabor on a grimly comic downward
spiral — he ends up on the street in Istanbul bouncing his knives off a
crude painting of Adele — that leads him to a bridge of his own.

Leconte and cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou shot the film in
strikingly effective black and white; they even dare to depict a rainbow. In
part because of the way it looks, the movie invokes the European cinema of
Mr. Leconte’s youth. Fellini’s “La Strada,” to name one, comes to mind early
and often.

But where Fellini favored poignancy, Mr. Leconte goes for the giggles. What
happens to Gabor and Adele is sad, to be sure, but not fatal. In that sense,
“The Girl on the Bridge” reaches back even earlier for inspiration, to the
worldly optimism of screwball comedy.

Leconte my be a touch too clever for his own good from time to time —
those Fellini references do go on — but he has made something fresh and
inviting out of classic parts, and all he wants is for you to come out and

[Margaret A. McGurk is film critic at The Cincinnati Enquirer. She has also
written for The Independent Film and Video Monthly.]

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