October 21, 2009

le pont du nord (1981)

There doesn't seem to be much written about Le pont du nord (in English). Most of the reviews state the obvious facts and obsess over the nebulous plot. The most interesting mention of the film is made by Deleuze (interesting, but not very helpful). For such a rich and difficult film, this lack of academic interest is unfortunate, and I am left with the feeling that I missed the film's most vital and interesting points.

Rivette is a tough nut, and I don't have the energy to crack him. But a couple of things really appealed to me about Le pont du nord. First is the theme of play, common in Rivette. The two women, Marie and Baptiste, are drawn into the abstract mystery as players and participate as though it were a game. The game itself is mediated by the map of Paris. See, they're playing:

According to their explanation of it, they are supposed to get through each trap without getting caught in them, and after that they win. Most of the traps are obvious (Prison), but some of them are curiously mundane (the Inn). The traps are located in Paris, according to the map the pair have gotten hold of which divides Paris into a nautilus-like spiral. (The game is called Game of the Goose in English. I have never before heard of it.) This mapping from game to city seems like it might be an important symbolic point. More on this later.

The two women bounce around Paris to complete their goal and get further and further involved in the sinister, completely senseless mystery. Game and reality intertwine. How does play function in reality? Play and sobering life cross at several crucial moments (more so as they near the end), but unlike other narratives which approach this conflict, in which the play and reality eventually clash to the demise of one, here they complement, blend to the point of being indistinguishable. Importantly, the film ends with play; Baptiste gets a lesson in fighting imaginary foes. What is real? What has happened?

The blend of play/life calls into question the experience of film. As people seem to take note of, Le pont du nord is an unpolished production -- one catches glimpses of the camera, mic, and moving corpses. Everything feels relaxed and amateur. Everything, if I may say it, feels like play. This connection is an important one. As viewers at play in cinema, we (usually) ask that reality (in the form of the filmmakers, or references to the world as it exists beyond the narrative) be completely absent from our experience. Does the knowledge that the filmmakers are playing (which is a reference to reality) change the way the viewer plays? (It does, of course, and people have noted this for a long time; I'm just rephrasing the question; playing with my perspective.)

The other important point I seized upon is the use of space. Marie, having just been released from prison, likes "wide open spaces." And, appropriately, the film is nothing but wide open spaces, being shot almost entirely outdoors. Parisian streets dominate the film, dominate the whole experience. Aside from the psychological impact of spending two hours in the streets, however, Rivette is making (I suspect) a deeper comment about Paris.

Several reviewers (including Deleuze) have noted similarities between the film and Don Quixote. Having not read the book (and not being a lit person), the allusion doesn't mean much to me. But yet, somehow, I want to connect Don Quixote's displacement in a changing landscape to Le pont du nord. Present throughout the film are cranes and construction sites, in various stages of construction or demolition. And with the dragon Baptiste battles the environment becomes a full faux-sinister comment on modernity (what?). Rawr:

What does this have to say about Paris of the time? About the social climate? Rivette was definitely saying something; indeed, for all its negativity the NYTimes review provides us with a very important clue:
At the press conference after yesterday's press screening, Mr. Rivette reported that the film was a collaborative effort, made last year in Paris by him, Bulle Ogier and Pascale Ogier (Bulle's daughter), and Suzanne Schiffman without a script. Together, he said, they wanted to make a film about what it was like to live in the France of the then-President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. They were convinced, he said, that President Giscard would be re-elected.
Paris under President Giscard. I certainly don't know anything about this. Is the film critical or optimistic? I wish somebody who knew this stuff would come in and help me out.

Thus the mapping of Paris takes on a new importance. What do those traps signify? The Prison? The Inn? The Bridge? Why is Baptiste so terrified of surveillance? And Marie of enclosed spaces? What are these wide open spaces? The dragon? The stone lions (all male; symbolic of power; which Baptiste seems to find annoying)? How does it all relate to Paris?

Je ne sais pas.

Where are you, scholars? I demand this film be un-puzzled for me.

Links to (mostly blog) reviews:
Fabrice Ziolkowski
Cinema Talk
Only the Cinema
The Face Knife
Wonders in the Dark

1 comment:

Allison said...

Alors, Mango, I do not know about Valery Giscard d'Estaing. I'm interested in knowing more about France's presidents and prime ministers, so perhaps I'll read up on it.

I love when Pascale Ogier cuts the eyes out of the posters. So funny. She had an amazing personality.