Trilogy (2002)

Trilogy So yesterday I felt capable of something a bit more, hmmm, intellectually driven than Sunday night’s kung fu action, and decided it was time to wipe Lucas Belvaux’s Trilogy off my “to watch” list. As the title may suggest, three films are involved, but unlike most trilogies where each successive story follows from the previous one and extends the narrative, this one is about stories overlapping, interlocking, reiterating from different perspectives. As an arthouse phenomenon it evidently bypassed Australia (did it do festival appearances?), but after I saw it recommended elsewhere I managed to get a hold of the Tartan DVD release (not the one pictured) and so watched the whole set yesterday. And really, something like this could’ve been made for home viewing through the medium of shiny disc, cos if you have a day to set aside you can watch the whole thing as a marathon like I did. Which mode, I think, benefitted the films.

The three films are Cavale (On the Run), Un couple épatant (An Amazing Couple) and Apres la vie (After Life). Or One, Two and Three for short. Each film focuses on one couple, who recur in the other two films as secondary characters. One is about Bruno and Jeanne; Two is about Alain and Cecile; Three is about Agnes and Pascal. The three women all work together at the same high school in Grenoble. Jeanne used to be in the same revolutionary terror group as Bruno, who’s escaped from prison and intends to carry on the good fight. Cecile and Alain suspect each other of infidelity, and she hires Pascal, a policeman, to tail him. But Pascal is a decidedly compromised cop; apart from taking on PI work he shouldn’t be doing, he’s also in thrall to a local “Mr Big” who wants him to wipe out Bruno (to which end he arrests Jeanne, hoping she’ll give him away), otherwise he’ll stop supplying drugs to Agnes. Meanwhile, desperate for a fix, Agnes goes in search of supplies and is saved from being attacked by the dealer by Bruno, who also saves her from ODing that night, and in return she offers him the use of a chalet owned by Cecile. And so forth over three films.

In truth it’s a story that could be told in one film (one of the extra features on the DVD demonstrates how the actions of one day presented in the three films can all be cut into a single sequence), but that would defeat the purpose of the trilogy, whose underlying principle is that we never really get the “full story” about anything. There’s always something missing, some detail that might change our whole perception of a person or event.  (Three contains a particular revelation that really casts one lesser character in an entirely different light.) The same characters in different contexts can come over as different people depending on whose perspective is involved. Belvaux further complicates things by making each film a different genre—One a thriller, Two a comedy, Three a melodrama—so that a scene from one film that also appears in another can be different in tone, shooting style, editing, etc, as well as character perspective. Pascal’s tailing of Alain in Three is a lot more ominous and creepy than it is in Two.

How do they work as individual films? One probably stands up best in its own right, although there are a number of ellipses only filled in by the other two films. Two is possibly the weakest of the three and its links to the other two films aren’t as strong (Alain has no real part to play outside of this film), plus I don’t think the comedy is quite as offbeat as I think Belvaux was aiming for. Three is probably the best of the three films, but is also much more dependent upon the other two films; much of it is reiteration of scenes from the other two, expansions and even completions. It’s the film that really ties the whole trilogy together. In short, they don’t really work separated from each other, but, again, that’s not the point.

One question about the order of the first two films. DVD releases seem to have them in the order I’ve indicated, but I’ve seen other sources (IMDB included) that suggest Cavale is second and Couple is first. I’m not sure it makes much difference (though Apres la vie really has to be seen third for full effect), though I like having the comedy in the middle for purposes of contrast and I think it should be seen in that order. On the whole, Belvaux’s Trilogy is an evidently fascinating bit of work, one of the most interesting experiments of this strange decade that’s just ended; I think, too, I made the right decision watching them all in one hit, too, cos now I’m not sure that spacing them out over days would’ve been as effective.

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