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The Bridge (Un
pont entre deux rives) (1999)
Gerard Depardieu, the actor, is well served by Gerard Depardieu,
the director, in The Bridge, a sophisticated and quietly surprising film about
what happens in a marriage that one partner has outgrown.
Even behind the main titles, Depardieu
begins addressing his theme. The camera lingers on a plain, contemporary building before
pulling back to show the theater across the street, "Le Royale"--an ordinary,
nondescript building contrasted with the fantasy world of the movie palace, the place
where escape from the commonplace is found. The audience is dispersing after seeing Jules et Jim,
Francois Truffaut's brilliant 1962 film about a woman involved with two men.
"Good movies make me feel good," says Mina (Carole Bouquet), who attends with
her fifteen year old son, Tommy (Stanislas Crevillen).
Depardieu is her husband, George, whose masonry business has failed,
leaving him unemployed. When Mina takes a job as a domestic in a grand home, George
objects. He finds it demeaning and it conflicts with what he has worked hard to build--a
business, a home, a middle-class family. He then takes a laborer's job building a bridge
some distance from their town; it's too far to commute so he stays in the laborer's
dormitory during the week. "What's this bridge for?" he asks a tad obtusely, but
connecting is not George's strong point.
At another film show, this time West Side Story,
Mina finds herself crying along with a stranger in the next seat who turns out to be
Matthias (Charles Berling), a civil engineer also working on the bridge. There's chemistry
between them. Mina's initial reaction is to remain faithful to her husband, to protect the
status quo of her family. But when Matthias persists at a chance later meeting, she lets
herself go. While it is clear that Mina and George love one another, George's limited
horizons and lack of imagination have left Mina vaguely unfulfilled. Matthias, although
himself married, offers both passion and the broadened horizons of upward mobility.
Step by small step the affair develops and is inevitably found out.
Depardieu, credited as co-director with Frederic Auburtin, draws performances from
himself and his talented cast that catch the often unarticulated subtleties of feelings
and the complications of the family relationships. Their responses to the changing
situation are supported by carefully developed motivations. With a gently bittersweet
tone, the film takes a nonjudgmental stance; its convincingly real people in real
circumstances lend a sense of inevitability to the outcome.
The Bridge, based on a novel by Alain Leblanc, builds its
effect in part by skillful observation of telling details. When Matthias and Mina make
love, they acknowledge that they know nothing about one another. That they are virtually
strangers to one another adds fuel to their mutual passion; the initial rush of their
affair is ecstatic. And Mathias continues to court Mina, to offer her the attention that
George seems now only to offer to his vegetable garden. When Mina realizes that she will
have to make a choice, she escapes once more to the movies.But she can't avoid the pain
that her decision will cause; while the audience laughs at the comedy, she once again
sheds tears. The difference is that this time the tears are for her own circumstances, not
for a fiction on the silver screen. It is painful, but she is re-engaged.
Stylistically, The Bridge, a straightforward narrative, could
have been made in the early 1960's, the time in which it is placed. The skill of its
storytelling, its perceptive observation and character building, and its disciplined
refusal to be tainted with sentimentality add up to a thoughtful and wise film.
- Arthur Lazere