Paris belonged to Celine and Julie, but the City of Light is a threat to Marie and Baptiste (Bulle and Pascale Ogier), who meet by chance near the start of Jacques Rivette’s sublimely melancholy fantasy. Marie is fresh out of jail and horribly claustrophobic; she can’t even enter a corner café without racing out in breathless agitation. And Baptiste is motorcycling around the metropolis with intensely narrow-eyed suspicion—are those stone lions she sees merely harmless statues or portents of something waiting to pounce?
Le Pont du Nord was the first feature Rivette directed after the tumultuous 1978 production of Merry-Go-Round, during which he suffered a nervous breakdown. The film has the feel of an artist rediscovering his voice: The noirish narrative revolves around Marie and Baptiste’s discovery of a conspiracy involving the shady Julien (Pierre Clémenti) and some secret policemen known as Maxes. But story is secondary to the playfully profound way the director uses the streets, people and passageways of Paris to comment wistfully on the city’s rapid revamping. There are few artists better than Rivette at uncovering the magical (even at its most menacing) in the everyday: Construction cranes are frequent, monstrous background presences; models in advertisements appear to spy on our heroines’ every move; even an outdoor art installation is photographed to resemble a fire-breathing dragon. Modern life is the gauntlet run by these characters, though the film’s bizarre, fascinatingly bitter finale ponders whether survival (and assimilation) is preferable to leaving it all behind.
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