Alex, who's homeless and addicted to alcohol, and Michèle, who's losing her sight, form a relationship while sleeping rough on Paris's Pont-Neuf bridge.Alex, who's homeless and addicted to alcohol, and Michèle, who's losing her sight, form a relationship while sleeping rough on Paris's Pont-Neuf bridge.Alex, who's homeless and addicted to alcohol, and Michèle, who's losing her sight, form a relationship while sleeping rough on Paris's Pont-Neuf bridge.
On that level, at least, "Les Amants..." works. The movie is filled with striking images -- the fireworks display as seen from Pont-Neuf, the flaming posters lining the walls of the Metro, and so on. It is not at all inaccurate to call this one of the most stunningly photographed films of all time.
But whereas the movie succeeds as a grand visual spectacle, it disappoints just about everywhere else. The relationship between Alex (Denis Levant) and Michele (Juliette Binoche, who manages to be as radiant as ever in spite of her role as a fairly grungy homeless painter) occasionally results in some moments of pure emotional power, which are promptly deflated with one of Alex's bizarre, unexplained transformations into a possessive, selfish, nearly sociopathic jerk. (His dreadfully unconvincing hyena-laugh doesn't help much.) Since the romance between these two characters is the crux of the film, this inconsistency mortally wounds the film. Maybe Carax was trying to convey a sense of the "amour fou" French romances are famous for; if so, he failed.
Even worse, though, are the myriad subplots that Carax introduces but doesn't do anything with. The old man (Klaus-Michael Gruber) with whom Alex hangs around with serves no purpose other than to give Michele the key to an art museum, yet he has the film's only significant supporting role. And it becomes clear later in the film that Michele (who is rapidly losing her sight) is, in fact, on the run from her past, but we learn next to nothing of it -- who, exactly, is "Marion"? Why does Michele (apparently) shoot her ex-boyfriend, Julien? These aren't just anal-retentive questions -- these are major plot points that would have helped tremendously in developing Michele. But Carax doesn't care; he was either in too much of a hurry to get the script done (not at all unlikely -- see the "Trivia" section), or didn't regard the story as anything more than a clothesline to hang his visuals on.
There are two other major irritations. First is the way the plot falls back on the "miracle-working ophthalmologist." You know that device: that's the one were the hero/heroine is/is going blind but can have his/her sight saved by visiting some lone eye surgeon who has developed a miraculous cure for their affliction. Not only does this trivialize Michele's torment, but it also robs the film of what could have been an even more poignant ending -- surely I'm not the only one who thinks the portrait-painting scene would've been more touching if Michele had done it blindly.
That brings me to the second sore spot: the ending. Michele ominously tells Alex she has to leave; Alex flies into a rage and pushes her into the Seine, following her in. When they rise to the surface, though, Michele is laughing as though Alex's little tantrum had never happened, as though she doesn't care that he would rather see her drown than risk losing her. (We're never told, by the way, why Michele had to leave.) They then board a garbage barge together, and the film suddenly turns into an homage to Vigo's "L'Atlante" that is so blatant that the only way it could've been more obvious was if Vigo had received co-directing credit. Since nothing else in the film suggests "L'Atlante," this unexpected reference comes across as just more evidence of sloppy writing, that Carax couldn't be bothered to think of a decent ending and just threw together the unsatisfying (but beautifully shot -- go figure) climax we're stuck with.
Don't get me wrong -- this is NOT a bad film. But it IS a tremendous disappointment, even for me, who has never exactly been a fan of Carax's work. Foreign film buffs should still see it -- maybe you'll have better luck focusing on the sights and sounds and blocking out the meandering screenplay.
- Mar 22, 2000