Saturday, September 7, 2019

Le pont des arts (Eugene Green, 2004)

Eugene Green’s Le pont des arts is indeed a film of bridges: of the real-life Parisian location of its title as a site of loss and redemption, of art as a means of spanning people and worlds, of the connective raw materal of cinema itself. The film contrasts a semi-established classical singer and a disaffected philosophy student: they never formally meet, but the beauty of the singer’s art creates a bond which outlasts her personal tragedy and provides to the student a new direction and purpose (this is, no question, a misleadingly tidy synopsis). Green favours a restrained performance style and head-on, interrogative close-ups, a style which tends to emphasize the distance between people and the created nature of the narrative – when the two protagonists finally touch, the event is depicted only in shadow – but the joy in ideas, the belief in high culture as a source of transcendent beauty, are absolute (a sequence studying the audience’s reaction at a Japanese No production, and a brief encounter with a Kurdish singer, make the point that such effects aren’t confined to canonical Western glories, although the film seems more iffy about rock and roll). At the same time though, Green skewers the earthly pretensions which constantly get in the way: in particular, the singer’s milieu is depicted as overrun by grotesquely self-regarding monsters who take pleasure in making tools out of people (the film, it should be said, is often very funny in this regard). In the end, it’s both a seductive immersion in a certain type of cinematic tradition (one in which it seems meaningful that the student somewhat evokes Jean-Pierre Leaud) and an assertion of art – in that magical space where actors and acted-upon find communion – as an abiding zone of difference, one which Green’s other, equally strange and scintillating, films confirm and extend.

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