True enough, but Lovers on the Bridge is as exalted as it is ridiculous—an outrageously contrived paean to freedom, a crazy mixture of scabby naturalism and rock-video mescaline staged on a movie set worthy of Stroheim. Carax expended most of his budget reconstructing a chunk of Paris—including the Pont Neuf, the quays along the Seine, the facade of the Samaritaine department store, and part of the Ile de la Cité—as the backdrop for the grand passion that consumes two of the world's scruffiest lovers, the half-blind street-artist Michele (Juliette Binoche) and the alchoholic street- performer Alex (Denis Lavant). Making their home on Paris's oldest bridge, the couple create their own world and so does the movie. They embrace on the grass in the glare of whizzing headlights and stroll through a city lit only by the strobe of a subterranean disco.

In his most grandiose gesture, the filmmaker re-creates the fantastic fireworks display that marked the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution as, drunk and cackling, the lovers sprawl on the Pont Neuf, shooting at the sky with the revolver Michele keeps in her paintbox. The director's trademark shot—let's call it a Caraxysm—is a convulsive rock-scored lateral pan alongside his running, capering hero. Here, Alex and Michele cavort across the bridge, alone in an exploding world as the music switches from Franco rap to an ecstatic Strauss waltz. It's a tremendous scene—one of the peak movie moments of the decade—and Carax manages to top it off with an inexplicable shot of Michele waterskiing on the Seine in a stolen powerboat.


Summer of Sam
Directed by Spike Lee
Written by Lee, Victor Colicchio, and Michael Imperioli
A Touchstone Pictures release
Opens July 2

The Lovers on the Bridge
Written and directed by Los Carax
A Miramax Films release
At Film Forum, opens July 2Leguizamo and Brody in Summer of Sams riotous disco-punk Sodom

Beatifying the lower depths, Carax reverses Chaplin's City Lights. Here the tramp would rather have the woman he loves go blind than for her to leave him. (In another stunning image, Alex tries to set the world on fire.) But the movie, too, doesn't go anywhere, being itself a sort of bridge. There's no setup and, even invoking L'Atalante, Carax can't conjure a closing to match the middle. Still, even suspended in mid-air, The Lovers on the Bridge remains a glorious binge—as half-cracked and heedless as its protagonists.

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