Jacques Rivette had his great period in the 1970s and “Le Pont du Nord,” opening for a week at BAM on Friday in a new 35mm print (possibly the first subtitled print shown here since the 1981 New York Film Festival), extends the territory Rivette mapped out in “Out 1,” “Celine and Julie Go Boating,” and the rarely-screened “Duelle.”
Like those, “Le Pont du Nord” uses plein air Paris as the backdrop for a playful, never explained conspiratorial narrative and, in this case, a literal game board (something like Chutes and Ladders) replete with clues and mazes. A ‘60s radical (Bulle Ogier) released from prison after serving time for a bank heist wanders through the city even as a young woman in a black leather jacket (Pascale Ogier) arrives from the sticks on her motorbike: “Bring it on, Babylon” she cries in her high-pitched childish voice, combatively circling the plinths and monuments in search of stone lions. The two women literally collide, and then meet twice more before becoming a team, sleeping in parks or an all-night movie house, and meshing their respective paranoid dramas.
As a filmmaker, Rivette favors the most ordinary, characterless parts of Paris (outer district canals lined with warehouses and small factories). He makes extensive use of “found” advertising posters, notably for Akira Kurosawa’s “Kagamusha”, and what Robert Smithson called “non-sites” (vacant or half-developed lots). Shot by the great William Lubtchansky, the movie unfolds in a largely unpopulated landscape of urban demolition and takes on additional documentary subtext for casting mother and daughter as its leads. (As different as the Ogiers are in height and coloring, their expressions are often identical.)
Rivette is also historically specific. “Le Pont du Nord”’s opening title sets the action in “October or November 1980—already a long time ago,” and presumably preserves something of that particular moment. In the US, Ronald Reagan waged his successful campaign against Jimmy Carter; in Paris, Prime Minister Raymond Barre was feuding with President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (who would lose the socialist Francoise Mitterand in the spring) while the city was on edge after four people were killed in a bomb blast outside a synagogue. Jewish militants battled neo-Nazis in the streets although many blamed Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi for masterminding the attack.
Images: Film Desk