DVD: Le Pont du Nord

PontDVDSTUDIO: Kino Lorber | DIRECTOR: Jacques Rivette | CAST: Bulle Ogier, Pascale Ogier, Pierre Clementi, Jean-Francois Stevenin, Benjamin Baltimore
RELEASE DATE: 2/17/15 | PRICE: DVD $24.95, Blu-ray $29.95
BONUSES: “Mapping Le Pont du Nord,” image essay by Roland-Francois Lack; “Composites,” video-essay by Gina Telaroli
SPECS: NR | 128 min. | Foreign language thriller | 1.37:1 widescreen | 2.0 Surround | French with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video  | Overall


In the U.S. Jacques Rivette (Around a Small Mountain) remains the most underrated and neglected of the core group of the French New Wave filmmakers. His best films are extraordinary allegories about politics, role-playing, and the power of myth and storytelling, and yet none of his pre-1985 works has yet been released on DVD.

The 1981 feature Le Pont du Nord (translation: “North Bridge”) has been one of the many Rivette features that was “missing” on both VHS and DVD, so this release is very welcome. The film provides a good entry into Rivette’s work, as it contains most of his central themes and also features two charmingly eccentric lead performances.

Rivette’s best films begin slowly and then speed up as they move along. That is very true here, as the first half of the film revolves around the bonding between a young, seemingly volatile drifter, Baptiste (Pascale Ogier), and Marie (Bulle Ogier, Pascale’s real-life mother), who has just exited prison and is attempting to meet her evasive and mysterious boyfriend (Pierre Clementi, Belle de Jour). By the second half of the film, we have found out that Marie and a friend were recruited to rob a bank by criminals who pretended to be political radicals.

Pont was a lively return to the original New Wave approach, with Rivette filming the entire picture outdoors in Paris. This is explained in the storyline: Baptiste is homeless and Marie begins to suffer crippling claustrophobia every time she’s “locked up” indoors. Rivette and his two ace cinematographers, Caroline Champetier (Holy Motors) and William Lubtchansky (Shoah), also succeeded in making the familiar unfamiliar – they shot primarily in remote areas of Paris that tourists would never find.

Pascale Ogier (l.) and Bulle Ogier in Le Pont du Nord.

Pascale Ogier (l.) and Bulle Ogier in Le Pont du Nord.

The film functions on two levels. It is a carefully paced thriller that ultimately reveals that Marie’s boyfriend has been involved in many political acts of violence and corruption (how deeply we never learn). It also is a contemporary urban fairy tale in which Marie is a wandering heroine, Baptiste is her knight errant protector and Marie’s boyfriend is a Big Bad Wolf. In the latter regard, the characters also indulge in game-playing: As the women proceed through the city they are presented with “clues” in the form of two city maps that serve as game boards for their quest.

Our heroines are similar to the protagonists in other Rivette classics, in that they are part of a conspiracy that they either believe in to a fault (Baptiste) or deny to their own detriment (Marie). In this they are like the theater troupe that is haunted by the mysterious suicide of their friend in Rivette’s debut Paris Belongs to Us (never released on disc or VHS in America). Their bonding also connects them to the leads in his best-known film, the imaginative and trendsetting Celine and Julie Go Boating (which was recently restored and shown in theaters by a supposedly revitalized New Yorker Films, but was never subsequently released on disc).

The reason that the bond between Marie and Baptiste is so oddly touching is clearly due to the real-life relationship between the two actresses. Pascale Ogier had an incredibly promising film career at the time of this feature, but died three years later at the tender age of 25. Her mother, now 75, has never stopped working in films and on television.

Two extras are included here, neither of which does much to unlock the “clues” found by the characters. A photo gallery assembled by Roland-Francois Lack shows us all of the film’s locations and expertly traces the characters’ odyssey, albeit without explanation or context. An experimental video by Gina Telaroli reflects on the film by having two female friends discuss it in a rather trivial fashion, while sequences from Pont are transformed via slow motion and other computer effects

Buy or Rent Le Pont du Nord
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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”