Le Pont du Nord
Directed by Jacques Rivette
One of the main characters in this drifting tour through the traffic circles, demolition sites, and cold-concrete enclosures of Paris—made in 1981 but just now receiving its first US theatrical run—has a habit of cutting out pairs of eyes from posters: at one point, she threatens an ad for Kurosawa’s Kagemusha with her switchblade. “We’re all being watched,” explains the hard-edged young Baptiste (the late Pascale Ogier) to her eventual companion, the ex-con Marie (Rivette regular Bulle Ogier, the mother of her costar), who join up to while away some time after a series of chance run-ins suggest their alliance is fated.
Shot entirely out-of-doors from a largely improvised script, Le Pont du Nord posits a built-city crisscrossed by clandestine activities where safe havens are few and far between. In its central female relationship and its ludic, free-floating form, the film obviously resembles Rivette’s earlier Celine and Julie Go Boating, though with most of the vibrancy dissipated by a low-level dose of modern paranoia: the overall mood is not unlike that of a round of hide-and-seek, in which the stakes might become deliberately confused, stranded somewhere between total lark and deadly seriousness. Nowhere is the proximity of imminent danger and put-on gamesmanship more visible than in the appearance of the tilting-at-windmills Baptiste: in her leather jacket she carries a knife, slingshot, and compass; she wears headphones she stole off a mannequin, and at every moment puffs herself up into an absurdly virtuous pose.
Origins and motivations remain hazy, but the story, as it were, comes to hinge on the contents of a suitcase that Marie and Baptiste steal from the former’s lover, Julien (Pierre Clémenti), himself preoccupied with some time-sensitive gambling debts. Inside they find a trove of crime-story clippings glued to individually numbered pieces of graph paper, and a map of Paris mysteriously drawn on with black marker. The overlaid pattern resembles the city’s municipal subdivision into arrondissements, but Marie and Baptiste nonetheless find that it reveals Paris itself as the board for a game they must play. Soon one wonders whether it’s all rigged, no matter how seemingly arbitrary the decision to participate—and also what sort of cunning it might take to survive around the clock in the surveillant public sphere.
Opens March 22