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Savant Short Review:

Lulu on the Bridge

Lulu on the Bridge
1998 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame /103m.
Starring Harvey Keitel, Mira Sorvino, Gina Gershon, Mandy Patinkin, Willem Dafoe
Cinematography Alik Sakharov
Production Designer Kalina Ivanov
Film Editor Tim Squyres
Original Music John Lurie, Graeme Revell
Writing credits and
Produced by Greg Johnson, Amy J. Kaufman, Peter Newman
Written & Directed by Paul Auster

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

A reasonably good offbeat fantasy-drama, Lulu on the Bridge is difficult to write about because any direct discussion of the plot would doubtlessly ruin it for new viewers. Savant ultimately did not find it personally very satisfying, but bets there are a lot of people out there who, if allowed to discover it unspoiled, might take to it in a big way. The synopsis below doesn't give away any conclusions, but it does probably say too much about situations you might rather encounter on your own, so beware.  1


Hard-boiled jazz saxophonist Izzy Maurer (Harvey Keitel) takes it even harder when a maniac with a gun bursts into a performance and ends his musical career. Barely surviving the shooting, he skates moodily along, ignoring his ex-wife Hannah (Gina Gershon), until he finds a dead man in an alley. He takes the man's bag home, and in it finds a mysterious small object in a box with strange and unexplainable, but positive, powers. He traces the object to aspiring actress Celia Burns (Mira Sorvino), and it seems to help them begin a loving relationship, like none he ever had before the shooting. Izzy manages to help Celia get a job with producer Philip Kleinman (Mandy Patinkin) and director Catherine Moore (Vanessa Redgrave) who are making an updated version of G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box. But as soon as Celia leaves for filming in Ireland, Izzy is taken prisoner by the shady Dr. Van Horn, a subtle brainwasher who clearly wants the object in the box. Izzy digs into his resolve and refuses to cooperate.

Off-beat is exactly what Lulu on the Bridge is, with an excellent cast laboring to put across the kind of story best described as Luis Borges crossed with The Twilight Zone. Lest that sound like the perfect marriage for fantasy, there's also a strong vein of quasi-precious pretension. The problem is that the conclusion of the film provides an opportunity to re-examine all that's come before ... which wasn't all that compelling when first seen, but takes on some interesting meanings after the fact. Kind of tough explaining one's reactions to a film when you don't want to get specific, isn't it?

Harvey Keitel has consistently chosen the adventurous route as an actor, and except for his excursions into Abel Ferrara-land, has pretty much kept his dignity intact. He's very good in Lulu on the Bridge, and well-supported by uncomplicated but heartfelt performances by Mira Sorvino and the rest. Unfortunately, the strange character logic is just as frustrating as the strange story logic, and it's only at the conclusion that you realize why people behave as they do. Vanessa Redgrave and Mandy Patinkin are especially left adrift by the concept of the movie (See, I can't explain a thing here).

With certain crew members familiar from Wim Wenders films, and a host of interesting 'hip' faces showing up in semi-cameos (Lou Reed, David Byrne, Paul Lazar, Stockard Channing's voice), the movie unfortunately also has a bit of a 'we're hip and you're not' air about it ... or maybe Savant is just insecure when it comes to appreciating art.

The show also takes an unwelcome turn into existential-land, when Izzy becomes the mysterious prisoner of captors who neither identify themselves or explain why they want the (unexplainable) item they seek. Willem Dafoe is almost warm & fuzzy as the enigmatic captor who poses unnervingly oblique questions. There was a bouyancy to earlier parts of the film, but with this stock situation steering the story to a tragic end, the feeling of anticipation for further surprises goes out of the movie at this point.

Major subtext enters in the form of a film within a film, mainly, Pandora's Box by G.W. Pabst, a knockout German silent with Louise Brooks that is as much in need of restoration as Metropolis. The movie is being updated, with Mira Sorvino's Celia character getting her big break as the star, and unfortunately the whole enterprise smacks of forced meaningfulness. (There are deleted scenes on the disc of some re-stagings of major scenes from the 1928 classic.) It also injects several clues into the story, that Savant should have picked up on - the idea that the classical Pandora's Box let loose all the evil in the world, the fact that the nightclub restroom has a Louise Brooks photo on its wall (don't they all?).

Writer/Director Paul Auster shows good control with his camera, and manages some very natural dialogue - overall, Lulu on the Bridge is very classily turned out. The 'mystery object' scenes are nicely done, with a magical feeling that doesn't rely on hyping the soundtrack and human reactions, the way a Spielberg would have handled it. Savant thought the whole show interesting, if a bit frustrating, and bets that it will split its audience into people who really like it, and those who are left totally cold.

Trimark's DVD of Lulu on the Bridge doesn't do full service to the show. First off, it's a full frame transfer of what was clearly meant to be a widescreen movie; trimming off the top and bottom of the frame on a widescreen set reveals nice compositions hidden within the frame. Second, the encoding of the movie is somewhat inadequate; you can tell that the film-to-tape transfer is excellent, but digital flaws show up more often than one expects from a first-class release. Sound is fine.

The DVD comes with a production commentary with the director, producer, editor, and director of cinematography, that's divided between production stories and insight into the script, explaining some of the dreamlike images.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Lulu on the Bridge rates:
Movie: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: Trailer, commentary
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: October 10, 2001


1. there are films like THE SIXTH SENSE for which everyone tries to conceal the 'surprise ending.' I kept my ears shut and still was boggled that anyone thought its simplistic story was even interesting (it was the characters and writing that hooked me). Lulu on the Bridge might not attract the same mass audience, but its makers surely don't need another online Spoiler-dude ruining their film for people who might really take to it. I'm sure there are quite a few out there.

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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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