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The human comedy, bourgeois division

'An Amazing Couple' is the second film in Lucas Belvaux's 'The Trilogy' and its weakest link.

April 09, 2004|Manohla Dargis | Times Staff Writer

"An Amazing Couple," the second installment in Lucas Belvaux's "The Trilogy" -- the French filmmaker's three thematically related, contemporaneous features -- revisits the classic bedroom farce with mixed results. After Alain (Francois Morel) discovers he needs surgery, he descends into a frenzied panic. Suffering the usual intimations of mortality, he initially tries to hide the news from his wife, Cecile (Ornella Muti). But as his fear escalates, so does his paranoia, leading to secrets and lies, slammed doors and a surfeit of strained marital comedy.

Shot in 2001 in the southeastern city of Grenoble, France, with the same actors in front of the camera and the same cinematographer behind the camera, "The Trilogy" is nothing if not a logistical coup. Inspired by the way genre determines meaning, Belvaux used three editing teams to shape his overlapping stories and the results are this film, a comedy; the thriller "On the Run," which opened last week; and the melodrama "After the Life," which opens next week. More conceptually fascinating than cinematically engaging, "The Trilogy" is, in great part, about relativism. Although all the characters experience more or less the same in life -- they love, fight, work, get sick, go to bad parties and eventually depart this mortal coil -- some creep along in the shadows, while others glide along in the bright light of day. In "An Amazing Couple," Alain and Cecile play the part of the self-involved, pampered bourgeois to a fault -- even their nights aren't particularly dark. Indeed, as the films that bookend this one reveal, while the couple is busily stirring up minor intrigue, the world around them is aswirl with murder and terror. (The amazing turns out to be less than complimentary.) For this pair, the world really is a stage and their friends and even their children are just bit players in the comedy of their life. At once amused and appalled by his creations, Belvaux puts Alain and Cecile through their comic paces, sometimes unkindly though never undeservedly. They dodge sickness, adultery, the usual familial turmoil and worse, jumping hurdles with nimble agility and only occasionally stumbling.

Sometimes it works, although when Alain twirls his scarf and Cecile gives another impatient stamp of her well-shod foot, it's exasperating -- a near-parody of bad French comedy. In the end, if "An Amazing Couple" weighs in as the least successful of the three features it's in large part because the filmmaker seems uninterested in the genre of comedy and its lightweight denizens. Unlike Eric Rohmer, who exposes the characters' foibles without ever relinquishing their humanity, Belvaux doesn't seem especially interested in his foolish couple. He'd rather be slinking along the shadows with his other night crawlers, including the lovelorn cop Pascal (Gilbert Melki), who plays a supporting role in the Cecile show before taking center stage in his own more interesting melodrama, the last film in the series, "After the Life."


'An Amazing Couple'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Adult themes, some violence

Ornella Muti...Cecile Costes

Francois Morel...Alain Costes

Dominique Blanc...Agnes Manise

Gilbert Melki...Pascal Manise

Catherine Frot...Jeanne

Lucas Belvaux...Bruno le Roux

Released by Magnolia Pictures. Writer-director Lucas Belvaux. Producers Patrick Sobelman, Agat Films et Cie, Diana Elbaum, Entre Chien et Loup. Production director Pascala Bonnet. Cinematographer Pierre Milon. Sound Christian Monheim. Continuity Renee Falson. Set design Frederique Belvaux. Costume design Cecile Cotten. Editor Valerie Loiseleux. Music Riccardo del Fra. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills (310) 274-6869.

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