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The Bridge, May 2

49th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Tuesday, May 2, 2006
9:20 p.m. The Bridge
Eric Steel (U.S., 2005)

In the poem "Musee des Beaux Arts," W. H. Auden wrote, "About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters: how well they understood/Its human position; how it takes place/While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along." Auden's poem takes as its occasion a painting by Dutch master Pieter Brueghel, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, in which, far from being central and tragic, Icarus appears only in a quiet corner of a busy frieze, as a pair of legs disappearing with a small splash into the water. The heartrending truths in Auden and Brueghel's works—that people suffer largely unnoticed while the rest of the world goes about its business—are brought literally and painfully home in Eric Steel's The Bridge, a documentary exploration of the mythic beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, the most popular suicide destination in the world, and the unfortunate souls drawn by its siren call. Steel and his crew filmed the bridge during daylight hours from two separate locations for all of 2004, recording most of the two dozen deaths in that year (and preventing several others). They also taped more than 100 hours of interviews with friends, families, and witnesses, who recount in sorrowful detail stories of struggles with depression, substance abuse, and mental illness. The result is a moving and unsettling film that cannot help but touch everyone in the Bay Area in one way or another, not least because it admittedly raises as many questions as it answers: about suicide, mental illness, and civic responsibility as well as the filmmaker's relationship to his fraught and complicated material.

—Graham Leggat

• Photographed by Peter McCandless. (93 mins)