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BRIDGE, THE(Un pont entre deux rives)(directors: Gérard Depardieu/Frederic Auburtin Genre; screenwriters: from a book by Alain Leblanc/François Dupeyron; cinematographer: Pascal Ridao; editor: Noëlle Boisson; cast: Carole Bouquet (Mina), Gérard Depardieu (Georges), Charles Berling (Matthias), Stanislas Crevillen (Tommy), Dominique Reymond (Claire Daboval), Mélanie Laurent (Lisbeth), Michelle Goddet (Babet); Runtime: 88; Phaedra Cinema/AMLF; 1999-France)
“Nobody does an adultery film quite the way the French do it.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Nobody does an adultery film quite the way the French do it. This melodrama is no exception. In this sophisticated story a married woman, Mina (Bouquet), falls in love with a married man and must decide if she wishes to leave her older husband. The co-director Gérard Depardieu is also one of the film’s stars, and does a credible job in both roles.

This film is set in the small town of Yvet where Georges (Depardieu) finds himself unemployed. His small masonry business couldn’t generate enough business and he is out of necessity forced to take a construction job building a bridge in the town of Tancanville, which is just far enough away so he can’t commute. Georges stays in the workplace dorm for the workweek, but returns home to his wife Mina and their 15-year-old scholarly son Tommy (Crevillen) every weekend.

The film opens as Mina and Tommy come out of the movie theater, “Le Royale,” after seeing Truffaut’s 1962 film classic “Jules and Jim,” which is about a woman in love with two men. There’s nothing much to do in town, so Mina is a frequent movie-goer. Films give her a chance to escape reality, as she excitedly tells Tommy: “Good movies make me feel good.” Also coming out of the theater is a wealthy woman she knows, Claire Daboval (Reymont), and her pretty teenage daughter Lisbeth (Laurent). On the spur of the moment, Claire offers Mina a job as a maid in her mansion. She takes the part-time job, which is a bike ride away from her house, even though Georges disapproves of her working. He feels it’s a slap in his face.

While taking in a matinee of West Side Story, Mina sits next to a man who is crying when the song Maria is sung (a little too corny for my taste). She meets him outside the theater after the movie and finds out he’s named Matthias (Charles Berling) and is an engineer on the same bridge construction as her husband. It’s love at first sight for the both, and when Tommy comes along they all go out together to a nightclub where she gets drunk and becomes giddy. She hasn’t laughed with this intensity in a long time and when she dances with him a strange feeling of joy comes over her. Georges is a nice man, but there seems to be no magic in their relationship and she has grown weary of it. Georges loves her with all his heart, which makes her feel confused as this new relationship develops despite her first impulse to resist it. It is able to flourish because Matthias is a relation of the Dabovals and is staying there as a frequent guest until the bridge will be completed in three years, and by chance they meet there. Complications arise when Tommy resents what she is doing and finds himself lying to his father, which is something he can’t forgive himself for doing. Tommy has to come to terms with this crisis in his parents’ marriage while he’s having a teenage relationship with Lisbeth that might become serious.

The film builds to its climax as Mina’s passion, once opened up, can’t be stopped. She has tasted a sense of freedom and can’t be denied her chance to live out a more fantasy filled life. Her decision to leave the limited Georges is a painful one for him and for Tommy, as well as a suffocating one for her. It is intelligently handled, but somehow I did not find the film compelling. Perhaps it was because Georges’ situation didn’t reach me because he was painted as a dull man whose strength was in his hands and in his decency, but who had no interest in fantasy. In the last scene at the gas station, a bad imitation of the scene Jacques Demy brilliantly did in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Georges and Mina meet while filling up and are going off in different directions. It now seems as if they were never meant to be together. Georges’ only change is that he bought a TV and doesn’t plant tomatoes anymore, while she just returned from skiing in the Alps and is living an exciting upscale life. The scene had no real feeling. It seemed to crudely hammer out its point that adultery is a way of escaping a boring marriage, and it seemed more interested in wrapping up the film than in engaging the story with more life.

The film looks at this adultery from the view of the woman, which makes it different from the way most films are done. It takes no stand on the adultery, but what it does very well is catch the subtleties and complications that occur that affect the participants. There is a lot of hurt to go around.

The Bridge is adapted from a book by Alain Leblanc. It relates how Mina who got pregnant 15 years ago by a man she didn’t love and by chance now meets an exciting man she always dreamed about, but to do that she has to break the rules of her middle-class life to be with him. What the film best points out is the psychology of what such a tormented woman must go through to make such a decision, because it will tear her family apart and make her think of herself as a whore. The film is set in the Normandy region of the 1960s; it might not seem as relevant today, as its old-fashioned story and French New Wave flavor of the 1960s loses a lot of the psychological impact. What it savors, is the subtle performances of Bouquet, Depardieu, and Berling. Though, without the middle-aged Carole Bouquet’s touching characterization, this would have been an impossible bridge to cross.

REVIEWED ON 7/20/2001 GRADE: B –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”