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Lulu on the Bridge back to product details

For Auster Completists Only
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written by randomcha June 20, 2006 - 10:59 AM PDT
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful
Nice try but no cigar. Auster is probably my favorite contemporary writer; alas, he's bitten off more than he could chew with this one. The "magic realism" approach that could make this story work as a film was not one he was able to pull off. It's a screenplay that should have been shot by another director. Redgrave conributes some engaging moments, but the rest of the cast gives tentative performances. If you want to see a REAL Auster film, stick with "Smoke," which is elegant, funny, tragic, and haunting.

Unfortunate transition
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written by qgnb June 19, 2006 - 2:43 PM PDT
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful
Over the last year or so Paul Auster has come to be one of my favorite contemporary writers. His explorations of loss, isolation, and the function of art and human connection as tools for survival in an insane world resonate much deeper with me than just about anything else. He has several elements that reoccur in his work: identities shrouded in mystery, coincidence, fiction or fantasy becoming reality. If you are not familiar with his work I highly recommend Oracle Night, Leviathan or The New York Trilogy as wonderful places to begin.

Auster is often lumped with other modern literary figures as being pretentious and difficult (see BR Myers), which is a ridiculous assessment. If you find his language "complicated" you probably didn't make it to high school. His language is in fact some of the simplest, most concise and least self-conscience of any major writer. He loves to play with genre, especially the mystery/noir pulp classics like Hammett's.

Lulu On The Bridge is no different. It is very much an Auster story: there are strange coincidences, shadowy characters, a tragedy and the subsequent dealing with that loss. It draws genre elements from drama, mystery, thriller and romance. In his writing, Auster weaves a world of these pieces, very much his own with its distinctive, haunting and engrossing effect. But his first attempt to tell one of his stories with cinema falls woefully short on connecting in any of these categories.

It would be unfair to reveal very much of the story to anyone still interested in the filmm after reading this. The story elements themselves are actually very good. Keitel is Izzy, a jazz musician. He meets Sorvino through a set of very violent coincidences, well establishing a shadowy, scary world. But out of terrifying experience these characters find love. Sorvino's Celia is an aspiring actress. A bizarre plot device, which drives much of the rest of the plot, brings them together.

As a screenwriter, Auster makes numerous miscalculations which one would never find in his novels. First, he cannot rely on a first-person narrative as he does in almost all of his books. Keitel therefore remains a rough sketch of a character but still manages to be interesting as a performer despite the shortcomings of the writing. But his relationship to his ex-wife, Hannah, is so poorly handled it almost derails the entire movie about 10 minutes in. Albeit, Gina Gershon is not much of an actress and she is awful in this film. But the dialogue she is given is not believable in the slightest, and the direction of the actors is so roughshod that everything sounds stilted and hokey. In a dinner scene we are introduced to 2 other main characters: the boyfriend (Patinkin) and the movie director (Redgrave). Again, awful direction of actors makes for an embarassing scene culminating in Gershon and Redgrave doing a silly dance with a 12 year old. Why are we watching this?

Also in this scene we are introduced to one of the most important elements of the film which is completely glossed over: Catherine's remake of GW Pabst's silent film Pandora's Box which featured Louise Brooks in the role of Lulu. At the time I had never heard of Pandora's Box, knew nothing of the plays it was based on, therefore did not know who Lulu was, nor still have any idea of what the story within the story (a regular Auster element) is really about. This would have been a perfect place to intercut some shots from the original film, have some conversation about the film, why Catherine wants to remake it. Anything. But for some reason Auster leaves us with nothing but the brief mention of these names and moves on. Grievous miscalculation.

The love story is sweet. The idea of something completely inexplicable drawing to people together is really nice. But Mira Sorvino is so innocent and childlike that there is no erotic energy. Their relationship is nice but boring to watch.

Auster's direction is all over. Some scenes go on far too long. Others are brief or seem out of place. Visual elements and locations are unique but little is made of them. But the acting is what kills. Early miscalculations in character and exposition hinder much of anything else from working.

As a script, I think this is a very cool story that could have been made into a much better film by a more skilled director. On the DVD we learn that there were scenes of the film within the film - Pandora's Box - which were cut out. There is information and structure there that could have been very helpful.

But there is no justifying the ending ... MAJOR SPOILER:

...

For some reason, Auster chooses the cheapest, most overused storytelling technique of the 90's - the "it was all a dream" ending. Though most of the rest of the movie wasn't working anyway, there were still aspects that were interesting. But any meaning that had been created up until then - about redemption, healing, mystery - is totally undercut by this ridiculous narrative trick.

Auster is so much better than that. It is no surprise that he has waited almost 10 years to direct another film. His writing certainly hasn't diminished in that time. I just hope he has grown as a filmmaker. The Inner Life of Martin Frost - which is a story from within his novel The Book of Illusions - comes out next year. It is also worth noting that Auster's only other attempt at writing for the screen, Smoke, is a wonderful film and a very good screenplay.

I wouldn't recommend "Lulu on the Bridge" to anyone but Auster junkies who have exhausted everything else he's produced. If you do not know his work, this is the worst possible introduction.

12345678910

(Average 4.58)
12 Votes
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