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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Another Bridget, another planet


Rating: * * * (out of 5)
Director: Amos Kolleck
Running time: 90 minutes
Language: English
Currently showing
[See Japan Times movie listings]

At the theater playing "Bridget," the ladies at the ticket counter showed me two fliers stuck together in a plastic sheet. "Which is the 'Bridget' you want to see?" they asked.

News photo
Anna Thomson in "Bridget"

As there's a "Bridget" and there's also a "Bridget Jones 2" it's easy to get confused. And since the fliers both prominently feature blonde women, maybe some people will absent-mindedly walk into "Bridget" expecting to see Renee Zellweger exchanging sweet nothings with Hugh Grant. In which case a surreal surprise awaits them: Instead of the cozy slapstick comedy of "Bridget Jones," "Bridget" wastes no time in setting the record straight: There ain't nothing cozy here.

In the first five minutes, for example, you get two stark naked women being forced to do pushups on a concrete floor of a warehouse while masked men stand over them with rifles. One of the women gives up ("I can't do it anymore; I've had too many cigarettes.") and without further ado she's shot in the head. The other, Bridget (Anna Thomson), is made to stand up, has her hands tied behind her back and is blindfolded. As she stumbles outside into the cold winter street, voices tell her from behind: "Good luck with the rest of your life, Bridget!"

"Bridget" is the latest from Amos Kolleck, the filmmaker who continues to work with actress Anna Thomson. Best known of their collaborations is "Fast Food, Fast Women," which was released in Japan a couple of years back and created a bit of an arthouse stir. And though the Japanese didn't take to Thomson as enthusiastically as the French have (she's American but lives in France and enjoys considerable popularity there) the reception was much warmer than that in her homeland.

In the United States, Thomson is virtually unknown or her name is synonymous with the term "plastic surgery run-amok," in that she looks like a manga-lovers wildest dream. But Kolleck has called her "the most fantastic screen presence" he has ever known, and it's clear that once he focuses his lens on her it's hard for him to tear it away. At the same time, however, he revels in making her screen life as miserable as possible. "Bridget," like all his other outings with Thomson, plunges her into a tailspin of physical danger and spiritual degradation (this is kind of like a B-movie, but with arthouse style). "Look," he seems to be saying, "at how plucky this woman is, in spite of everything I do to her!"

Indeed, pluckiness is Bridget's dominant trait. In the wake of every disaster, she picks herself up, dusts herself off and continues on her way. In her mind is just one objective: to get back her son Clarence and live with him (right now he's being brought up by foster parents). Her husband had been murdered when Clarence was a baby and for a long time Bridget had been drifting and bar-hopping to deal with the pain of her losses. The story traces her struggle to recover and get back on track.

The story structure is loose and not strictly chronological as Kolleck typically values ambience over logic, unexpected and quirky one-liners over explanatory dialogue. Kolleck also seems to view Thomson more as an entity than an actress -- the details of Bridget's face and body are so cartoonish to the point of being a warning against excessive surgery and implants, but from a distance her slender frame constitutes a perfect silhouette, stylishly outlined against the chaotic muck of her environment.

At different times in the course of five years Bridget is threatened by thugs, molested by a couple of men and remarried to a mentally disabled 30-year-old for the promise of $50,000. Her day-job is behind a cash register in a Manhattan supermarket while at night she works as a stripper in Times Square. Then she's off on drug-dealing gigs to Beirut. It's one hairy episode after another, with an army of scumbags who want to use, abuse or -- at the very least -- sleep with her.

Throughout, Bridget never loses her cool and often has energy left over for a little deadpan humor. In one scene she's chugging down whiskey shots at a bar counter when the bartender informs her: "There's a gentleman at the table who wants to buy you a drink." She turns to look at him and then says: "He wants to buy me a drink? Ask him if he wants to marry me afterward."

Unlike Bridget Jones, there's really nothing about Bridget the average moviegoer can identify with: She's just too bizarre. But there's an elegance and an appealing tranquillity to her that makes the supposedly irresistible Bridget Jones come off as excruciatingly blah and ordinary. On Bridget's face you can see the track marks of passion, despair and decay, of a life lived to the hilt. It's hard to think of any other actress who bears her scars with such regal pride as Anna Thomson.

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