Anything can happen when actors direct—from Robert Montgomery’s sojourns into subjective weirdness to Robert Redford’s flatulent mythopoeia—but we could hardly have expected the modesty and sober gentility of Gérard Depardieu’s debut, Un Pont Entre Deux Rives, prosaically retitled The Bridge and seemingly destined to be underseen. Codirected with Frédéric Auburtin, another actor trying on the breeches, The Bridge visits a familiar happening—the slow, accidental dissolution of a marriage—but the mood is Renoir without the twist of lemon: quiet, mature, sensible, accepting. Depardieu is Georges, a small-town laborer out of work in 1961; Mina (Carole Bouquet), his serenely beautiful, relaxed wife, reveals her secret dissatisfaction only through her elated repeat viewings of West Side Story. As Georges finally finds employment on a distant bridge site that requires him to bunk away every week, Mina and her teenage son, Tommy (Stanislas Crevillen), meet the suave-doughy Matthias (Charles Berling) at the theater; it’s not long after Matthias reveals that he’s an engineer on the bridge that he and Mina begin a barely perceptible co-seduction, leading to a remarkably guiltless affair.
Bouquet, one of France’s preeminent movie stealers (Grosse Fatigue no longer belonged to Michel Blanc after she showed up), makes The Bridge seem active and joyful even when the scenario lays low; her soulful intelligence never stops humming. But she’s never given a scene in which the liaison’s euphoria becomes clear—in fact, the love scenes seem strangely, purposefully bloodless. The impression is that the characters are harboring deeper secrets, or, eventually, that the first-time directors were at a loss. Once Georges discovers the affair, we’re not shocked that the movie resists melodrama, but his tortured, responsible compliance is odd and moving coming from Depardieu, just as his movie is mysteriously haunted by civility under extreme pressure. Scarcely profound, The Bridge might be too restrained for its own good—with subtitles, cataclysm sells better.
Director Laurence Fishburne, on the other hand, could hardly control his hammier instincts with his filmization of his play Riff Raff, and Once in the Life is hot-tempered theatrical combat, punctuated by supposedly cool jailhouse doggerel that scans like “Casey at the Bat,” and blanketed with a Branford Marsalis score that plugs, wails, and finger-snaps along regardless of what’s happening. Always commanding, Fishburne miscasts himself as 20/20 Mike, a jabbering, somewhat spineless hood with a slight case of self-declared precognition; after he meets his long-lost (and white) half-brother Billy (Titus Welliver) in the overnight tank, they decide to rip off a local drug lord, leaving them terrified and oozing blood in an abandoned hideout. Once Mike’s joint buddy Tony (Eamonn Walker) shows up to help and/or cap them, the stage is set for teary speeches and gun-to-the-temple face-offs. While the line-readings are often dead-on, Fishburne’s movie suffers from the usual one-room claustrophobia and Mametian repetitions (you hear “Don’t call me that!” 50 times), and cutting to cameo roles by Gregory Hines, Annabella Sciorra, and Paul Calderon doesn’t help much.
Harold Ramis used to be an actor (one of the funniest riffers on the old SCTV), but as an A-list sitcom maven, he seems to respond to scenarios (Groundhog Day, Multiplicity) in which a troubled mensch endures a high-concept, reality-mutilating ordeal that offers him a variety of ways to self-realize, all of which fail in favor of being a good Christian. Not nearly as subversive as Peter Cook’s original, Bedazzled has its comedy-pro moments, though Elizabeth Hurley, as the Devil granting wishes to ur-geek Brendan Fraser, burbles her lines as if she’s reading lottery ping-pong balls. It might be worth enduring the Limburger to see Fraser morph from freckled-faced Rod McKuen dweeb to seven-foot albino ball star and never miss a beat.