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With: Gerard Depardieu, Carole Bouquet, Charles Berling, Stanislas Crevillen, Dominique Reymond, Melanie Laurent, Michelle Goddet, Christiane Cohendy
Written by: Francois Dupeyron, based on the novel by Alain Leblanc
Directed by: Gerard Depardieu, Frederic Auburtin
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 95
Date: 04/07/1999

The Bridge (1999)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Lovers on Both Shores

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After a more than 30-year career, actor Gerard Depardieu serves as both director and actor for the second time (his first was 1984's Tartuffe), with co-director help from Frederic Auburtin. Their film The Bridge opens in 1961 at a local moviehouse from which satisfied patrons are emerging, having just seen Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim. You can just imagine Depardieu smiling from behind the camera, remembering his own work with Truffaut on The Last Metro (1980) and The Woman Next Door (1981).

The Bridge does in fact play like a latter-day French New Wave film, one that's calmed down considerably and is not full of beans and wildness. Though it lacks style and gloss, and it's certainly not a major event, it concentrates on telling an emotionally real story and succeeds.

Depardieu plays Georges, the unemployed head of a family of three: his wife Mina (the unbelievably beautiful Carole Bouquet) is offered a job keeping house for a rich friend, and their 13-year-old son Tommy (Stanislas Crevillen) is a studious bookworm. Georges reluctantly accepts a job building a bridge, but the distance from home requires that he live at the worksite, away from his family five days a week. At the same time, the engineer Matthias (Charles Berling) in charge of the bridge appears in town and begins an affair with Mina.

The Bridge sets itself apart from similar movies with its calm rationality. In most movies about a husband discovering his wife's extramarital affair, we would expect fireworks, screaming or perhaps violence. Here, the characters think long and hard about their decisions and reactions. When Georges discovers the infidelity, he coldly lays out Mina's options. He reminds her of his size and strength, telling her that he could crush her if he wanted to, but he opts for human instead of animal behavior. (And yet, it was animal behavior that caused the whole problem in the first place.)

Bouquet (from Bunuel's That Obscure Object of Desire, and a Bond girl in For Your Eyes Only) gives an extraordinary performance, showing the excitement of new love, as well as dealing with her heartbreaking decision, with a minimum of fretting or posturing. She and the directors simply allow the camera to linger on her amazing face. It's easy then to read into it what we want. Indeed, there's no way of knowing which mate she will choose in the end, a trick that keeps us riveted and interested for the film's entire running time.

The Bridge is a quiet movie that subtly observes and does not flinch at its dark subject. Yet, it's perceptive enough to pick up on life's small joys as well -- it's more than just a depressing movie about a troubled marriage -- such as Bouquet and her son enjoying West Side Story or characters dancing to still-new rock 'n' roll music. The film's only attempt at artiness comes in the form of its title, a metaphor for the various types of relationships in the film. On the whole, though, The Bridge is an impressive, though minor, work.

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