Jacques Rivette’s 1981 Le Pont du Nord Gets A U.S. Debut


Shot quickly and cheaply in 16mm on the streets of Paris in 1981, Jacques Rivette’s Le Pont du Nord was a “comeback” film of sorts for its director at a moment when the lions of the Nouvelle Vague—Godard, Rohmer, et al.—were collectively readying their second acts. The result was a Rivette film with the free-form energy and inventiveness of a second debut, close in feel to his landmark Céline and Julie Go Boating, but with the conspiratorial overtones of film noir standing in for Henry James, and all of Paris as its characters’ playground. Once more, Rivette begins with the seemingly random meeting of two women—one, Baptiste (Pascale Ogier), a motorbike-riding adventuress first seen shouting “Bring it on, Babylon!”; the other, Marie (Bulle Ogier, Pascale’s real-life mum), a mysterious woman in red, newly released from prison. When Baptiste snatches a briefcase belonging to Marie’s estranged love, Julien (that great, eccentric androgyne Pierre Clémenti), the women find themselves in possession of a map that transforms the city into an elaborate board game (think Snakes and Ladders) complete with trap doors and labyrinths, a giant, enveloping spider’s web, and even an honest-to-goodness fire-breathing dragon. And we’re off to the races! The ensuing journey is at once playful and tense, loaded with wry cine-references and propelled by an ebullient energy that suggests each new wrinkle of the plot were being dictated by a roll of the dice. (Like many of Rivette’s films, Le Pont du Nord was largely improvised by the actors.) Watching the film now, on the occasion of its first release in U.S. theaters, it seems more obvious than ever how much Rivette has influenced a subsequent generation of filmmakers—Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry—and expanded our sense of the possible.