A homeless artist who is losing her sight, Michele (Binoche) finds herself drawn to a passionate relationship with a troubled street performer named Alex. Then, despite all obstacles, they together find love and shelter on the famed Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris. But, in time, their unlikely love will be tested as Michele's secret past catches up with her! With memorable performances from an outstanding cast - you'll be swept away by the stirring romance of this wonderfully inspired motion picture!
Love is a sketchy sort of emotion. It has degrees of intensity. It can strike certain people but not the other. It can span decades or it can flame out in mere moments. Love can also strike in the unlikeliest of places between two just as unlikely people. This is the central idea behind Leos Carax's infamous 1990 film The Lovers on the Bridge. Famous for extreme budget overruns, the film took years to complete and even longer before it could be fully appreciated. It's enigmatic look at a powerful emotion featuring incredible performances and a beautifully kinetic visual style.
Alex (Denis Lavant) is a street performer in Paris who wows crowds with impressive fire-breathing tricks. He's also a homeless alcoholic who depends on downers just to get to sleep. His "roommate" on the Pont Neuf Hanz (Klaus-Michael Grüber) keeps Alex in check, doling out the downers but also working to maintain the peace on the bridge. That peace is broken when the half-blind Michèle (Juliette Binoche) mysteriously appears in Alex's sleeping spot. Hanz wants the woman to leave immediately believing that she's no good for Alex. On the other hand, Alex wants her to stay. Even with one eye, she's a terrific artist capable of capturing darkly earnest portraits of the people she meets. Alex only wants her and for her to love him in return. As they sleep under the stars on Paris' most famous bridge, the pair endure a tumultuous dance of emotions and dramatic revelations about each other.
Perhaps the best way to describe The Lovers on the Bridge is "hypnotic." From the opening moments where we watch as a car zips through Paris narrowly hitting a drunk Alex as he stumbles along in the middle of the street to when it narrowly misses hitting Michèle, the film pulls you right in. While there is little doubt about Alex and Michèle's socio-economic standing in Parisian life, their intense introduction forces you to instantly start asking questions. Who are these people? How did they end up here? Why is she carrying a massive art portfolio and a tin full of paints? As we slowly get to know them, we learn that Alex and Michèle are simply two extreme personalities living in an extreme situation.
As they sleep on the Pont Neuf, we see that they have carved our a sort of existence. It's not one that would fit the average person; sleeping out in the open, drinking excessive amounts of cheap wine, bathing with river water. It's an existence that works for them, so under these circumstances, it's reasonable to assume that love would somehow take root. Every logical piece of you tells you this is a relationship that can not and probably will not last. But for an alcoholic street performer and an artist that is steadily going blind, you want them to experience that piece of happiness many of us take for granted.
Writer and director Leos Carax directs the film as if there wasn't a set script or story. There is a raw energy to it that feels almost like watching a documentary. The film is often times horrifying in its depictions of street life - especially during the opening when Alex has to go to a public hospital for treatment. Much like the relationship played out between Denis Lavant and Juliette Binoche, there is a lot of dirt and very little clean to this film. You know early on that there isn't likely to be much of a happy ending, but you still want to enjoy the small slices of happiness these characters get to enjoy.
I first experienced The Lovers on the Bridge in school. We were covering a production segment about budgets and production troubles and this film made the list alongside Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate and David Fincher's Alien 3. In the case of The Lovers on the Bridge, filming required a meticulous reproduction of the Pont Neuf. Along with an incredibly expensive fireworks display among numerous other issues, it was more than a decade before this film was seen to larger audiences outside of France. During that production class, I was only shown small segments; the most memorable when Alex starts randomly firing a gun during the bicentennial fireworks celebration of the French Revolution. It didn't make sense at the time, but it's a moment that stood out then and it's even more powerful now in the context of the film.
Ultimately this film is about passions and extremes. The love Alex and Michèle share is a genuine passion, but it's an extreme one where at different times one person or the other feels differently and rarely are they ever truly in sync. It's difficult to call such a film "entertaining" but I couldn't help but be drawn into it. It's a fascinating piece of filmmaking that takes you on a journey to a part of civilization that is rarely explored.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Lovers on the Bridge arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber. Pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard black Blu-ray case. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. Also included is a booklet containing a fantastic essay from Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.
The Lovers on the Bridge arrives on Blu-ray with a beautiful 1.66:1 1080p transfer. Much like the film's central characters, there is a beautiful ugliness to the image. It's rough around the edges, having the quality of a director spontaneously shooting scenes without proper light setups while at the same time carefully and meticulously choreographing some impressive imagery. Grain structure fluctuates here and there depending on the scene, but overall it maintains a steady and consistent presence. It's only ever noisy and rough looking during the opening scenes at the public hospital. Once the action moves to the Pont Neuf, fine details return to the image. From the shabby dirty clothing of the cast to individual bricks on the bridge, every nook and cranny are open for examination.
Colors are also wonderfully rendered here. Primaries have a strong, heightened presence, Michèle's yellow jacket for example leaps off the screen. The fireworks scene is particularly stunning. Flesh tones are accurate and healthy if slightly on the pale side depending on the scene. Some scenes really do appear as if improper light readings were taken as whites can look just a bit too hot. Not a fault of the transfer mind you, this maintains a very organic presence. The source elements for this transfer are problem free, some slight speckling here and there but nothing you'd really notice. The only real anomaly is some occasional banding.
Taken as a whole this is a beautifully ugly-looking film.
The Lovers on the Bridge arrives with a solid French DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. While this film is largely conversational and dialogue is rendered unencumbered, there is an incredible sense of space and atmosphere to the mix. This is most notable when the film quiets down at night as Alex and Michèle are about to fall asleep. The sound of winds or a gentle breeze pick up and echoes of distant vehicles traveling over other bridges can be heard. The film's music cues punch up the drama of any given scene without dominating the mix. Dialogue is clean throughout although there are a couple dialogue exchanges that sound a bit tinny, almost as if they weren't looped properly. Levels are set just fine so once you have everything at a comfortable volume, you're all set. It's a very subtle audio track that fits perfectly with the tone of the film.
Aside from the booklet essay, bonus features are unfortunately sparse. I would have loved some retrospective cast interviews about the making of this film.
Water and Stone Video Essay: (HD 9:27) From Álvarez López and Adrian Martin, this is a very smart and thoughtful look at the characters and how locations and objects thematically line up with each character.
Trailer: (SD 1:08) This is a terribly silly trailer that really oversells the movie. From the trailer you'd think this would be a sort of romantic comedy featuring the cast of Love Actually complete with overly dramatic narration.
While The Lovers on the Bridge had a very troubled shoot and was notable for its various production issues and protracted worldwide release, the final result is fantastic. It's a beautifully earnest and rough look at extreme passions and life's little eccentricities. Sometimes everything works out and there are happy endings. Sometimes some people aren't that lucky.
Kino Lorber brings The Lovers on the Bridge to Blu-ray in terrific form with a stellar A/V presentation. Extra features are unfortunately very slim. Taken as a whole, this is still a terrific Blu-ray release for an amazing character-driven film. Highly Recommended.