Friday, 29 July 2016

Le Pont Du Nord

Jacques Rivette's "Le Pont Du Nord" from 1981 is an interesting film, not least because it defies categorisation in any way you try and read it. I think it works best when viewed as an example of guerilla film-making, since that's effectively what it is, some years before that cadre of American filmmakers (Larry Clarke, Robert Rodriguez) took their cameras to the streets to film what their vision, and some years after Melvin Van Peebles arguably invented the genre. And yet it stands outside of those examples, since whilst those filmmakers resolutely worked within a genre and tried to emulate a genre, Rivette only uses his genre (the conspiracy thriller) as something of an afterthought, secondary to the process of guerilla film-making itself.

Rivette was, after all, all about method, and that seems to take preference within his films. In the liner notes he speaks of an inner juxtaposition, of the almost documentary-style nature of his film, and the highly strung plot. And yes, there is a plot, despite all this tedious stuff about methods and juxtapositions and all that. Mother and child Pascale and Bulle Olgier play two unrelated women, Baptiste and Marie, whose paths cross three times in one day, and whom Baptiste argues their being together must be fated. From there they explore a shady and ill-defined conspiracy involving a map modelled on a child's game, a briefcase containing... Something, and several men labelled as "Max" by Baptiste and hence deserving of scorn. Marie has just been released from prison; we have no idea where Baptiste has come from.

There's also Marie's partner Julien (Pierre Clementi), owner of the coveted briefcase, and seemingly the original Max (Jean-Francois Stevenin), who both cycle through benign and threatening at any given scene in the film.

What does it all mean? I don't know, but looking for meaning in a film like this seems counterintuitive. It seems to purposefully defy all meaning. In a Hollywood film, it would be a high-stakes affair with lots of scenes of Tom Hanks running through rooms looking for clues, but here, it is simply what Rivette presents it to us as. And it does contain an eerie, otherworldly beauty, mainly as a result of the on-location shooting in Paris, nearly devoid of interiors, and the rhythmic, simplistic editing.

I realise I have largely described this film instead of actually reviewing it, but this is no simple work. I loved it. It was quietly compelling, and culminates in a final sequence, with Baptiste and Max sparring opposite each other on a bridge, framing a Parisienne canal that's glimmering in the late evening sunlight, that has an indescribable lo-fi pulchritude, like the hazy neon glow you get from a Daniel Johnston record.

Odds are, if you know of this film, you know about Rivette, and already have an opinion on his methods and aims. If you've bought into his vision (I have), this will be an immensely rewarding venture. If you've never heard of him, this isn't a bad place to start. Look past the wilfully enigmatic style and engage in the beats, and the style.

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