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Le Pont du Nord

Kino // Unrated // February 17, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted February 8, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Jacques Rivette's Le Pont du Nord is a strange and dream-like character study of two women drifting through Paris with a surreal sense of urgency. They meet by chance (or perhaps fate), and end up accompanying each other on a wild chase through the city, where they are both the chasers and the chased. On one level, their situation seems to involve corruption of the highest order, possibly even on a supernatural or spiritual level. On the other, both women are fighting personal demons, and dealing with their own individual problems. It's a mysterious film that will leave many dissatisfied, but will also compel most people to keep watching up until that last second, just waiting for some other shoe to drop.

The first of the women is Marie (Bulle Ogier), who is searching the city, trying to reunite with Julien (Pierre Clementi), her lover. She suffers from severe claustrophobia, brought on by a stint in jail after she and a young man tried to rob a bank. That sense of feeling boxed in is only exacerbated by her knowledge that her partner in crime remains in jail, and without the right bit of evidence or testimony, could stay there forever. When she reunites with Julien, she is ready to see the world, to spend the rest of her life traveling, but Julien has become entangled in some sort of situation that he refuses to explain to her. They meet on top of the Arc de Triomphe and he tells her that they can be together in three days, leaving Marie to fend for herself on the streets until his mysterious business has been completed.

On her way to meet Julien, Marie runs into a younger woman three separate times. Baptiste (Pascal Ogier, Bulle's real-life daughter) spends her time motoring around Paris on a little motorbike, transfixed by the city's numerous lion statues. She is driving around one in circles, locked in some sort of staring contest, when she accidentally runs into Marie, forcing her to cut a wire on her bike's engine. Later, Marie enlists her assistance in checking on something inside a hotel that she cannot enter. Baptiste is oddly paranoid, a problem that manifests itself in similar ways to Marie's claustrophobia. She has taught herself some form of martial arts and practices it as part of her morning routine, and she is so alarmed by the sense that she is living in a surveillance state that she routinely whips out a knife and slices up any unblinking eyes on posters or billboards within her reach. She tells Marie that meeting three times is fate, a notion that Marie scoffs at.

Rivette established a few rules in the making of the movie, which he outlined in the film's press notes: stick to a documentary-like style of discovery, never leave Paris (or go inside), and never show anything that occurs outside of the women's point of view. All three rules generate a certain atmosphere, but it's the last one that has the largest effect on the film. Even from the beginning of the movie, which is a nearly-silent sequence of concurrent narratives leading up to the pair's first interaction, there is an additional richness and fullness to the concept of these two women as characters leading individual lives which change when they meet each other. They are not easily categorized or understood (one would not guess from the opening that Marie is the one who spent time in jail, or that Baptiste is the one who dislikes drinking), and the real-life bond between the two women fuels a fascinatingly unique chemistry between the two actresses. They have a very accepting friendship, one that feels natural despite their almost complete lack of anything in common.

The story turns to the contents of a bag that Julien is carrying around, in particular a map with a grid drawn on it. Marie, of course, views it as a board game, a structure that provides chance, but it could just as easily be a rigid pathway, leading them to the kind of fate that Baptiste sees in the world. Regardless of which one is more true, there are traps and dangers along the way, which the two women navigate together. In many ways, Le Pont du Nord is both a character piece and a movie that relies most on atmosphere and feeling, and what happens to them is almost beside the point. It is compelling enough just to watch them going about their unusual business, getting to know one another, sharing things, and trying to figure out what it is that Julien has gotten himself into. Whether or not modern audiences will find much to enjoy in the film (unavailable in the United States for some time) is yet to be seen, but it's a unique and fascinating journey where the beginning and end are less important than the companionship along the way.

The Blu-ray
Kino's Blu-ray edition of Le Pont du Nord arrives in a standard Viva Elite Blu-ray case. The artwork is a frame from the film, blown up and plastered with the title, cast, and a superimposed design from the film's story. For my money, the photo in question doesn't really capture the tone or attitude of the film very well, so I'm not a huge fan of the way this looks. The back cover also uses borders on the lettering that makes it look a little cheap. The single-disc release also includes a fairly lengthy booklet, which offers some excerpts from the original press kit, and a short essay by film critic Dennis Lim.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.37:1 1080p AVC and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, the restoration of Le Pont du Nord is very good. The film was shot on 16mm, which usually leads to a heavy grain pattern. The Blu-ray's transfer appears to fully retain the image's grain structure and detail while also minimizing the intrusiveness of the grain. Colors look a little muted or desaturated due to age, but the red of Marie's dress still pops and the viewer can take in some nice depth and detail during shots from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. The dialogue is clean and clear, even if there is not much going on in the way of surround or immersiveness aside from the buzzing of Baptiste's motorbike, or the howling of an amusement park dragon. English subtitles are provided.

The Extras
A couple of disappointing video extras are included. The first is "Composites" (13:40), a video essay by Gina Telaroli. I'm sure there are people who will enjoy this strange cross-fade clip that blends someone, I presume Telaroli, reading poetry while footage from the film plays, but I am not that person. The other is "Mapping Le Pont du Nord" (11:44), a video essay about the film's locations. In terms of the making of the movie, this is more substantial than the other feature, but still not one I found particularly entertaining (shooting locations are generally not something I'm that drawn to learning about). Both extras are presented in HD.

Although the disc comes up short in the supplement department, the film and transfer are both very good. The film is a strange, atmospheric piece that drifts through its story without much momentum, but there's a fascinating chemistry at the heart of it that makes it more than worth a look. Recommended.

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