"Lovers On The Bridge" is notorious, but not very popular. It caused a big scandal in France, not because of its content, but because of the caprices of its director Leos Carax. Much of the film takes place on the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris, and Carax demanded to be allowed to film right on the bridge. So, the bridge was closed off just for him, and even then he couldn't finish filming. After he was kicked out, he built a life-size model of the bridge and part of its surroundings, somewhere in the countryside, and tried to finish filming there. Even then he went over budget three times, thus causing three separate producers to go bankrupt.
The film was a complete failure, commercially. Critics thought it was too long and too self-important. The public just didn't bother to see it. As a result, Carax's career was basically over by 1992. Since then he's only made one film, "Pola X" in 1999. (There's word that he's making another one right now, though.)
What is "Lovers On The Bridge" about? It stars Carax's favourite actor Denis Lavant as Alex, a bum who lives on the Pont-Neuf. Sometimes he puts on a fire-eating act to entertain passersby on the street. The rest of the time, he gets drunk. He's also addicted to pills of some kind.
One day, a woman shows up on the bridge. She doesn't talk about her past, but Alex finds out that she comes from a rich family. She was abandoned by her rich boyfriend, and she has a problem with her eyesight which will eventually make her blind. Because of these problems, she decides to run away from home and go slumming on the Pont-Neuf.
Naturally, Alex falls madly in love with her. They cavort on the bridge together and steal money from rich tourists. Then of course they're separated. Alex does a whole bunch of desperate and stupid things and loses his will to live. Maybe you can guess whether or not they're reunited in the end.
Carax's underlying worldview in this film is exactly the same as in his two earlier films, "Boy Meets Girl" and "Bad Blood." He believes in a thing called love, you see. But his idea of love has a lot of narcissism in it. His lovers are hopelessly self-absorbed. They can never have any kind of normal life together, simply because they would be unable to support each other. They can get drunk together, but they can't feel so much compassion or empathy. Alex, in particular, is a psychopath. He tries to prevent the woman from curing her eye problem, because he doesn't want her to leave the bridge.
And Carax also believes that the sensory impact of a film is more important than the logic of its narrative. So, this film contains many vivid, visually brilliant scenes that don't make much sense if you think about them. For example, Carax thinks that guns are romantic, so he puts a gun into the film and uses it in a long dream sequence. The sequence doesn't have much bearing on the plot, and actually it makes his heroine look cold and vicious, but it's exciting to watch.
The greatest scene of this sort is the one where the lovers celebrate Bastille Day by screaming and doing cartwheels on the bridge, to a deafening medley of classical, rock and rap music. The content of the scene has no meaning. But the effect is ecstatic. And in a way, it really captures a youthful feeling of falling in love.
If Carax's worldview doesn't appeal to you, then you'll probably agree with the critics who savaged the film. They have a point. But still, "Lovers On The Bridge" is Carax's best film.
First of all, he has a much stronger script than before. His two earlier films are full of long, artificial monologues, which are recited into space by the characters. But here, the dialogue is much more terse. Alex doesn't say much at all, and this is very appropriate to his character.
Second, Carax paid attention to the setting of his story. The plot might not be very believable. Of course that's the point. Carax wants to overwhelm the emotions by any means necessary. But nonetheless, the opening of the film just shows a few scenes taken at a homeless shelter in Paris. They are unrelated to the plot, and the main characters don't appear in them. But they make a very strong impression. Carax shows the bad conditions in which his characters live, without making anything up. Somehow, this realistic introduction makes the rest of the film much more convincing.
Third, the romance is just a little bit more subtle than in Carax's earlier films. In "Bad Blood," for instance, it was hard to see why Julie Delpy loved Denis Lavant so much, since his character there was basically the same as here. But here, Carax implies that the heroine isn't quite in love with Alex. Or rather, she is, but only up to a point. She loves him while she's slumming on the bridge, but she doesn't want to take him with her when she leaves. She shows no concern for him when he suffers the most from her absence. She does remember him later, but she only wants to see him on her own terms. In other words, she's like him. That's not very nice, and in fact the main characters of this film are not nice people, but it's believable at least. It's also hard to see why she went down to the bridge in the first place, if she's like that, but that's not really the point. Carax needs the bridge because it allows him to make his grand spectacles.
I honestly don't know if I'd recommend this film. It's alternately unpleasant and thrilling. But it is Carax's best film. There's nothing else that's quite like that.