When it comes to a decidedly different perspective on romance, leave it to French director Patrice Leconte to redefine the parameters of love and obsession. Few tales of unrequited lust are as swooningly romantic as his "Monsieur Hire" (1989), which chronicled the doomed relationship between a prim voyeur and the reckless object of his affection. "Girl on the Bridge" is that film's equal for unconventional ardor, but while "Hire" was a marvel of formalist beauty, Leconte's latest is an exuberant swirl of extreme emotions.
The girl of the title is Adele (Vanessa Paradis), the waiflike survivor of a string of disastrous relationships who is standing on a bridge over the Seine. Precisely when she's ready to surrender her life to the river's inky depths, fate intervenes in the form of Gabor (Daniel Auteuil), a knife-thrower who's looking for a new assistant/target -- someone tough yet trusting, who can observe flying metal with a serene demeanor.
They team up, and their relationship is platonic yet wildly erotic. Leconte films their precisely executed performances (in which Gabor calmly flings huge knives at Adele's bound body while the audience gasps) as barely sublimated intercourse. But in Serge Frydman's continually surprising screenplay, there's more to this union than an adrenaline rush.
Adele and Gabor are bound together by a powerful force -- call it luck, chance or fortune -- that they never question. Their rapport is such that when they're apart, they can hear each other's thoughts. Yet they remain the same flawed people as when they met, and therein lies the problem. From giddy heights to devastating lows, Leconte shows how two people so intrinsically linked could be alone together.
The film's fuel is the kinetic chemistry between veteran Auteuil and newcomer Paradis, who parlay their experience and enthusiasm into wise, touching performances. Their crackling energy even seems to extend to the film's wide-screen visuals (rendered in a glorious black-and-white), which mirror the relationship between Adele and Gabor.
"Girl on the Bridge" doesn't employ the conventional romantic palette of garish colors, choosing instead to paint a portrait in stunning shades of gray.