There are so many good things about Girl On The Bridge that, halfway through watching it, I leaned forward in my seat and began praying it would make it to the finish without tripping up.
Contrary to popular belief, most critics really want to like a film. We often feel crushed when those with promise fail to deliver in the end.
Girl On The Bridge sets the bar high from its first scene. Adèle, played by pouty French pop star Vanessa Paradis, recounts her sad, promiscuous life to an unseen interviewer. She chalks everything up to bad luck, which in a lesser film might sound like an excuse or a plea for sympathy.
But Adèle is refreshingly free of self-pity. She believes bad luck is simply her birthright, like an ear for music. This wry philosophy makes her far more interesting than the typical naïf, and also raises a fascinating question -- is luck just something in the air, or can it be possessed? Is it essentially a matter of faith?
Fortunes change Just as she's about to jump off a bridge, Adèle's fortunes change when she's approached by Gabor (the gorgeously rumped Daniel Auteuil), an aging knife-thrower in need of an assistant who won't have much to lose if he happens to miss.
Gabor tells Adèle that he believes she has a special gift. She, in turn, begins to believe in him and make him more sure of his aim. Suddenly, two luckless individuals have a chance to succeed together.
Filmmaker Patrice Leconte (Ridicule, The Hairdresser's Husband) weaves the knotty philosophical questions into the background of a glamorous, old-style romance. Gabor and Adèle tease and challenge each other like a less chatty Tracy and Hepburn, but their desire only finds expression in their act.
Every toss of the knife is charged with sexual tension as well as physical danger. It's a heady, suspenseful mix.
They take their act on an exotic road trip from Paris to Monaco, Italy, Athens and Istanbul, with Leconte making giant nods to Fellini along the way.
Cold documentary It's all shot in burnished black and white, the kind with just enough brown to warm the actors' faces and make us feel like we're looking at old photos rather than a cold documentary.
Though the story could be set in any era, Paradis has the tart look and haircut of a flapper. The actress also brings a flapper's insouciance to the role. Paradis is known more for her offscreen life -- Lenny Kravitz's muse, Johnny Depp's mate -- but with this film she seems to have come into her own, proving she has the steel nerves and droll humour to match her veteran co-star Auteuil (Jean De Florette, Manon Of The Spring). Their scenes together crackle with emotions that don't all come from the script.
Feeble contrivances But once Leconte brings these intoxicating ingredients together, what does he do with them? He allows the last act of the film to limp along with feeble contrivances and dull moping, then brings everything to an unsatisfying close courtesy of an ending shipped directly from Hollywood.
It's a shameful waste of sexual and intellectual tension. Unfortunately, it's also typical of filmmaking these days. Take an interesting premise, attract good actors, shoot it in gorgeous ways, and then hope like hell no one will notice that the story doesn't pay off.
But I'll forgive a lot for a film that at least has such grand intentions.
GIRL ON THE BRIDGE, directed by Patrice Leconte, written by Serge Frydman, produced by Christian Fechner, with Vanessa Paradis and Daniel Auteuil. A Paramount Classics release. 92 minutes. Opens Friday (August 11). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 65. Rating: NNN