The Trilogy:  On the Run, An Amazing Couple, After the Life

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews Robin Clifford 
Lucas Belvaux's The Trilogy (On the Run
On the Run
Lucas Belvaux's The Trilogy ( An Amazing Couple)
An Amazing Couple
Lucas Belvaux's The Trilogy (After the Life)
After the Life
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews Laura Clifford 
Three very different stories are tied together in a masterly way by Belgian actor turned director Lucas Belvaux as he begins his ambitious work with the story of Bruno Le Roux (Belvaux), an activist revolutionary escaping from a 15-year stint in prison for murder. He heads back to Grenoble to mete out revenge on those who betrayed him and rekindle past relations in part one of “The Trilogy: On the Run.”

Part two of “The Trilogy” takes a very different turn as Belvaux focuses on Alain (Francois Morel) and Cecile Costes (Ornella Muti), an upper middle-class couple facing a crisis induced by his secret visits to doctor friend Georges (Bernard Mazzinghi). Alain is certain that he is dying of cancer but keeps this little fact from Cecile who suspects, because of his odd behavior, that he is having an affair. Her strange behavior, because of this suspicion, prompts Alain to suspect her of infidelity, too, in “An Amazing Couple.”

This brings us to the third installment of “The Trilogy” where police detective Pascal Manise (Gilbert Melki) is trying to repair a tarnished career by hunting down and capturing Le Roux. He also faces the daily ritual of supplying his wife, Agnes (Dominique Blanc), with morphine to fuel her decade plus addiction, but the mob wants Le Roux dead and they hold Agnes’s drugs hostage to force Pascal to comply in “After Life.”

Taken as individual films, the three pieces of “The Trilogy” are interesting, entertaining and showcase the filmmaking talent of Lucas Belvaux with each film, in and of itself, being good but not great. It is when you see the three films in succession that you can appreciate the subtle weaving of the stories and characters as the focus shifts from one film to the next. Belvaux adds another level of complexity to the project by switching genres in each movie, too.

“On the Run,” rightly, leads the trilogy with its gritty film noir thriller about revenge, although it is tempered with moments of kindness. The film grabs your attention right away as sirens blare and shots are fired as Bruno makes good his escape from prison. It looks like he’ll make a clean getaway when they run into a roadblock of heavily armed cops. Le Roux makes a run for it, smashing through the barrier amidst a blaze of gunfire. He makes it through unscathed but his partner, Jean-Jean, doesn’t fare so well and gets himself demised.

Bruno heads for Grenoble to settle old scores with mobster Jaquillat (Patrick Deschampes), whom he suspects of betraying him 15 years earlier, and look up his old colleague and lover Jeanne (Catherine Frot). Any plans to pick up where he left of with the former revolutionary are dashed when he learns that she is happily married, a mother of two and a schoolteacher. She has given up her past life, disgusted by the indiscriminate violence and death the likes of Bruno can inflict on the innocent. “They’re irrelevant,” he says. “Not to me!” she retorts. Le Roux’s militant return to his old ways is softened when he comes upon a woman, in the bad side of town, being beaten by a drug dealer. He rescues Agnes and helps her score some dope to take care of her morphine habit. But, the police have a dragnet on the city and Agnes helps Bruno find refuge – in the form of friend Cecile’s country home.

Part two of “The Trilogy” takes a decidedly different direction as “An Amazing Couple” focuses on Alain and Cecile. He is a success lawyer secretly consulting his physician friend, Dr. Georges, to confirm, as he suspects, that he has cancer. The doctor tells him there is no problem and a simple procedure will cure him but Alain keeps this information from Cecile, certain that he is dying. When Cecile notices the secrecy and catches her husband in some white lies she suspects there is infidelity afoot. She asks her friend Agnes if her policeman husband Pascal will help her find out what Alain is up to but the cop is more interested in attractive Cecile than in tailing Alain. Things get more complicated when Alain notices that Cecile is acting strangely and decides that she is having an extramarital fling and begins following her.

This comedic farce is about as far a departure from “On the Run” as can be. While Alain tries to cover up what he believes is cancer he notices that Pascal keeps turning up in his life. Suddenly, his hypochondrium takes a back seat to paranoia as he tries to prove Cecile’s infidelity. He develops a conspiracy theory and suspects everyone of trying to do him in. He questions the familial fidelity of his two grown children, his friends and his doctor. He even believes that the Mafia is out to get him – after all, Cecile is Italian. Meanwhile, Cecile is being misled by Pascal into believing that Alain is, in fact, having an affair with Agnes. This drawing room style comedy, with all of its twists, turns and mistaken beliefs is laugh out load funny at times, thanks to Alain’s delusions, secrecy and paranoia. “An Amazing Couple” is an odd companion piece with the other entries in “The Trilogy.”

The last installment, “After Life,” takes a more somber tone than the first two films as we become more deeply involved in Agnes and Pascal. We know already that Agnes is a morphine addict supplied by her policeman-husband for more than a decade. When Le Roux escapes prison, Pascal takes chase in hopes of getting back into the good graces at the police station. But, when mobster Jaquillat blackmails Pascal – no more morphine unless he gets rid of Bruno – the cop is conflicted between finding Le Roux, courting Cecile and helping Agnes get a fix.

Agnes, for the first time in all of the years of being an addict, is without her precious, needed morphine. She blames Pascal for her tormenting and painful withdrawal, not knowing that he is helpless to procure her fix. He must kill Bruno in cold blood if he is to get her drugs but cannot tell Agnes this fact. She accuses Pascal of not loving her any more and stomps out to find her own fix. When she is beaten by a drug dealer, Bruno happens by and saves her from the thug. He promises to help her find a fix if she will help him find a place to stay. Agnes borrows Cecile’s bright red Audi and drives Le Roux to temporary safety. But, her hopes of easing her withdrawal pains continues as neither Pascal nor Bruno can produce the goods for her.

You can watch any one of these films as a standalone and enjoy it. But, it is the combination of the three films, each very different from the others, that makes “The Trilogy” special. It is being compared to Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” which tells one story from three different viewpoints. I, personally, find “The Trilogy” to have more of a kinship with Krzyzstof Kieslowski’s trilogy, “Trois couleurs:” “Red,” “Blue” & “White.” That film, too, told three different stories with the characters appearing in each film with varying degrees of importance. What makes Belvaux’s work so compelling if its release as a single body of work. “The Trilogy” is definitely a case where the whole work is greater than the sum of its parts. I give it an A-, with each installment getting a B.

In the city of Grenoble, three school teachers are the link among the interwoven story strands of writer/director/actor Lucas Belvaux's genre trio "The Trilogy," a monumental project that is richly rewarding for the viewer. Although each film can stand on its own, the whole is vastly superior to the sum of its parts.  The films are being released in the aforementioned order in the United States, although the order of the first two films was reversed for their European release.

I happen to like the thriller, "On the Run," being first, as its first image is of prison yard floodlights coming on, like a movie sound stage coming to life. Jeanne (Catherine Frot, "Chaos") goes under police surveillance when her revolutionary ex-lover Bruno (Belvaux) escapes from prison after fifteen years. She wishes to shield her husband Francis (Olivier Darimont) and child from her former life and Bruno considers her a sell out, but Jeanne does maintain loyalty to him, refusing to cooperate with police.  Bruno recreates his identity in a storage facility, burns down his old apartment and tries to track down Jacquillat (Patrick Descamps), the man he believes fingered them.  On this mission, he ends up protecting a junkie, Agnès (Dominique Blanc, "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries"), who provides him a hideout at her coworker Cécile's (Ornella Muti, "Oscar") chalet in exchange for heroine, but Bruno is flushed out and heads for the Italian border through the Alps.

The theme of subterfuge begins as secretary Clair (Valérie Mairesse, "The Sacrifice") colludes via telephone with Cécile to hold up Alain (François Morel) at the office, but Alain has his own secret agenda, an appointment with his doctor, Georges (Bernard Mazzinghi, "Madame Bovary").  Alain is a hypochondriac who is convinced that a routine surgical procedure will be his end and he does not want to worry his wife, but Cécile thinks he is hiding an affair and turns to her colleague's husband Pascal (Gilbert Melki, "Venus Beauty Institute"), a policeman, to discover just what Alain is up to in the romantic comedy "An Amazing Couple."

Unbeknownst to everyone, Agnès is a morphine addict whose husband, Pascal, has been supplying her.  When Bruno escapes, Pascal's source, Jacquillat, shuts off the supply in an attempt to blackmail Pascal into killing Bruno, but Pascal resists cold-blooded murder.  Agnès believes her husband no longer loves her when he tells her he's 'forgotten' to get her drugs and their marriage undergoes great strain as she goes into withdrawal in the melodrama "After the Life."

Belvaux's experiment exemplifies the concept that it is impossible for one human being to know another and that, in fact, people present different sides of themselves in different situations. In examining crisscrossing stories with three different genres, Belvaux intensifies these differences, essentially giving his audience three differently tinted pairs of glasses with which to view his characters.  In fact, Belvaux's own character is referred to differently in each film (Bruno, his first name, Pierre, a false name, and Le Roux, his last name) and constantly changes his appearance with disguises to elude the police, literal identity changes which underline his concept.  It's an engrossing experience, although at least one story strand, that of Pascal falling in love with Cécile, doesn't pass muster when viewed a second time.

Of the three films, "On the Run" is the most successful as a standalone piece.  In Bruno, Belvaux creates a dichotomy - a sympathetic terrorist - who has a complete story arc (both "An Amazing Couple" and "After the Life" have ambiguous endings which imply that their couples may begin again where they started).  Bruno's belief in The Popular Army has caused him to take lives, yet he shows tremendous compassion for the junkie who wanders into his path.  Yet Jeanne tests his beliefs by demanding to know how the deaths of three fireman and a retired railway worker furthered his class warfare.  The film is briskly paced and edited (Ludo Troch, "Everybody's Famous!," gets our hearts pounding with the opener's effective jump cuts).  Riccardo Del Fra's terrific score is a bass line punctuating the action.  Cinematographer Pierre Milon ("Time Out") works mostly in shadows here, until the surprising and stunning conclusion.  B

"An Amazing Couple" could almost stand alone if it weren't for the nagging lack of explanation for Jeanne's arrest.  Bruno, who is only referred to here as Pierre, the false name he gives to Agnès, is merely a footnote here, because even though the policeman Pascal is a prominent supporting player, we're seeing him through Cécile's agenda.  This light, whimsical film is grounded in the terrific comedic performance of François Morel, who turns Alain's paranoias into an ever-escalating parade of misinterpreted missteps.  Morel is adept with both physical comedy and his timing is spot on.  His usual reaction to his shifting perception is to whip out a voice recorder and change his will.  Meanwhile, Cécile is on his tail, Pascal is making goo goo eyes at her and Claire keeps changing allegiances.  Del Fra's music veers from comedy to suspense, a horn dancing around the bass.  Milon employs the bright lighting typical of comedy, which occasionally is unflattering to Muti.  B

"After the Life" is the most difficult film to judge as a stand alone when one sees it last, although I suspect Bruno's identity would appear murky at best with Cécile even more problematic. (In fact, when Pascal repeats the 'I love you' admission from "An Amazing Couple," it seems to come from left field.)  Here melodrama is the mode with violin predominating the score.  Gilbert Melki makes us feel his desperation at being pulled in two directions, although sometimes his motivation is enigmatic (for example, why does Pascal resist telling Agnès the truth about her morphine initially?).  One can feel the strength of his love for his wife in the way he whispers 'look at you' after she's been beaten and strung out trying to get a fix.  Dominique Blanc is terrific as the functioning junkie who gets the rug ripped out from under her.  Milon gets in close and personal with hand held camera, and we're given Agnès's point of view for withdrawal episodes. On its own, probably a B-, yet seen as the trilogy capper, it is the most rewarding.  An admission from Francis near the film's conclusion makes plain the chasm that can exist between perception and truth.

"The Trilogy" is a marvel in how it forces one to keep evolving one's impressions.  Each film roughly follows the same time frame and sequence of events, but the way these events are edited provides scene repetitions with new revelations.  When we see Agnès collapse at Alain's birthday party, we realize that only we are privy, from the previous film, to her drug addiction.  When Pascal is added to a scene we had previously seen without him, his eavesdropping adds profound depth to his character.  When a major player undergoing intense personal drama is barely remarked upon in one of the other films, Belvaux makes us aware of how self-absorbed human nature is. 'We don't pay enough attention to strangers,' Alain remarks having finally become aware of Pascal's presence.  Indeed.  Belvaux's "The Trilogy" may be flawed, but it hits its mark.  B+

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