Child's play

Bulle and Pascale Ogier turn a map of Paris into a life-size board game in La Pont du Nord (1981).

Growing up in rural New York state, I had a friend with whom I concocted elaborate fantasies of mystery and intrigue.  When we played together, the most innocuous things—a scrap of paper, a snatch of overheard conversation, a discarded object found by the side of the road—could inspire the most fabulous conspiracy theories.  Bored and overly imaginative, desperate for something to happen to us, we wanted to believe that we were living in a world more exciting than it really was. 

Our sleepy farming community was worlds away from the Paris of Jacques Rivette’s La Pont du Nord (1981).  But, watching the film for the first time, I understood completely the impulses of his main characters Marie and Baptiste (real-life mother and daughter Bulle and Pascale Ogier), who meet by chance (or fate?) and enter into a fantasy world of their own making.  Baptiste in particular exists in a state of play-acting so immersive that it may as well be real.  Fancying herself a modern-day samurai (armored in jeans and a leather jacket, no less), she imagines every face she encounters, even those of advertisements and statues, to be that of a potential enemy; at one point, she prepares to do battle with the image of a Japanese warrior on a poster for Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha.  A petty criminal recently released from prison, Marie seems less prone to such flights of fancy.  But she willingly joins Baptiste in the investigation of a city-wide crime ring that, at least at the beginning, seems to exist only in their heads.  That the conspiracy turns out to be real is a plot twist typical of Rivette, who made a career out of treating the most outlandish premises with a cool naturalism.

I can’t say I responded to La Pont du Nord with the same enthusiasm that I felt the first time I saw Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating or Out 1; for one thing, La Pont du Nord is so short that it feels slight, underdeveloped.  (At 126 minutes, it’s one of Rivette’s shortest films.)  But as I continue to explore Rivette’s work in the wake of his death, I remain bowled over by his willingness to embrace the most fantastical plot contrivances with the fervor of a child playing make-believe.

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