The Power of Three
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2004; Page WE41
"ONE MAN's ceiling," sang Paul Simon, "is another man's floor." That three-dimensional conceit is given clever and intriguing dimension in Lucas Belvaux's "Trilogy," a collection of three narratively overlapping films seen from different points of view.
Even though the films -- "On the Run," "An Amazing Couple" and "After the Life" -- follow the same approximately two-week period in Grenoble, France, and feature the same characters, the perspective each time is radically altered. And to make the dramas even more distinctive, the Belgian director has made each film in a different genre.
Thus, "On the Run," which opens Friday, is a political thriller of sorts, in which a Baader-Meinhof-style political revolutionary (Belvaux) named Bruno le Roux, escapes from jail after 15 years and tries to pick up his old life of death and destruction for the public good.
"An Amazing Couple," which opens June 18, is a romantic farce, in which Alain (Francois Morel), a hypochondriac who believes he's dying of some mysterious ailment, and his teacher-wife, Cecile (Ornella Muti), are led to believe the worst things about each other, until the truth emerges.
"After the Life" (also opening June 18) is a stark, almost Fassbinderlike melodrama, in which Pascal (Gilbert Melki), a cop, procures the finest heroin from the street to keep his addicted wife, Agnes (Dominique Blanc), in a state of permanent bliss.
Interestingly, in the States, "On the Run" is the first of the trilogy, followed by "An Amazing Couple" and "After the Life." But in France, in an order that Belvaux says he prefers, the romantic farce was first, followed by "Run" and "Life." The bottom line is, you can watch these films in any order. The joy is in watching the narrative intersections and changing your perceptions of the characters. Each movie casts light on the others. And after watching all three, a profound blending of the stories percolates in your head.
"On the Run" is the most cinematic of the three films. It tells its story in stark, often wordless scenes. After his breakout, Bruno (in "On the Run") goes in search of old cohort Jeanne (Catherine Frot), who's living a new life as a teacher, wife and mother; and he's gunning for Jacquillat (Patrick Descamps), a drug dealer whose double cross sent him to prison.
Bruno finds out soon enough that the world has passed him by. His dogmatic view of the world is now outdated. But with detective Pascal hot on his heels, he refuses to change, with disastrous results.
After seeing "An Amazing Couple," the big picture widens. In this comedy, Cecile misinterprets husband Alain's furtive attempt to have himself medically tested as suspicious extramarital behavior. She hires a detective to follow him. That would be Pascal who -- in this farce -- seems to be something of a goofball.
But Pascal's oddness is mere distraction. We don't learn that until we see "After the Life," the most assured of the three films, in which Pascal has to shake down kingpin Jacquillat to keep Agnes stocked up with heroin. Pascal is no idiot, we realize. He's a tragic figure whose every move is to satisfy Agnes.
But in "After the Life," Pascal mysteriously loses interest in his wife. (We know why, from watching "An Amazing Couple.") Agnes's drug supply becomes irregular. Not sure why her husband has stopped paying attention to her needs, Agnes is forced to hit the streets for dope. She bumps into . . . Bruno, who, in the throes of trying to kill Jacquillat, takes pity on Agnes and becomes her new supplier.
We're back to Bruno again.
And so on and so on. As in Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" or novelist Lawrence Durrell's "The Alexandria Quartet," each story becomes part of an ever-expanding tapestry. There are few occasions in which the viewer gets to be active and make connections between films; Belvaux's "Trilogy" offers the moviegoer this fascinating experience: viewer creativity. In the end, you are not watching three, but four, films. The fourth is your own. And Belvaux has no part in it. Start the projector in any order you choose.
ON THE RUN (Unrated, 117 minutes) -- "An Amazing Couple" (Unrated, 100 minutes) and "After the Life" (Unrated, 124 minutes) open June 18. All three films contain sexual situations, obscenity, violence and drug use. In French with subtitles. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company