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Focusing in on the sad and seamy side of life

The final tale in Lucas Belvaux's 'The Trilogy' neatly wraps up an intense, human story.

April 16, 2004|Manohla Dargis | Times Staff Writer

The third and final chapter in Lucas Belvaux's "The Trilogy" -- the French filmmaker's three complementary features -- brings the series to a satisfying end. This time the focus is on the gruff cop, Pascal Manise (Gilbert Melki), and his drug-addicted wife, Agnes (Dominique Blanc), who have played supporting roles in the preceding films, "On the Run" and "An Amazing Couple," and, perforce, in the lives of the other characters.

In the first feature in the series, "On the Run," Pascal clung to the edges of the story as one of the cops chasing down the prison escapee, the terrorist Le Roux (played by Belvaux himself), while his wife assumed a more central role aiding and abetting the escapee. In the second feature, "An Amazing Couple," Pascal emerged as a more ambiguous and human figure, while his wife receded into the background. As a favor to his wife and her friend, Cecile (Ornella Muti), Pascal tailed Cecile's husband, Alain (Francois Morel), in an effort to discover whether he was cheating. During the course of his investigation, Pascal fell for Cecile, but it isn't until the third film that we discover what pushed him away from his own wife.

Shot in 2001 in Grenoble, France, "The Trilogy" was inspired in part by Belvaux's interest in genre and the question of how (or how much) genre determines meaning. Using the same actors in front of the camera and the same cinematography behind the camera, Belvaux shot for almost six months. He then used three editing teams to create a thriller ("On the Run"), a romance ("An Amazing Couple") and a melodrama ("After the Life"). Although the three films can be viewed separately, they gain in power when considered as a whole, particularly in rapid succession. Viewed as one ongoing story, "The Trilogy" gives us the time and space to revisit characters that might otherwise disappear forever; it also allows us to appreciate how the truth shifts depending on whose point of view we're asked to share.

A generally uncompromising look at unquiet desperation, "After the Life" fills in the remaining blanks opened by the first features, bringing the three films neatly together. Central to the last film's success are Manise and Blanc, who invest the story with intensity unmatched since Belvaux stormed through the first feature. Like Belvaux's single-minded terrorist, Agnes and Pascal are victims of crippling addictions -- she's addicted to morphine, he's addicted to her. The filmmaker reveals the horrors of addiction but never revels in it, unveiling the layers of deception that the couple -- like most of the other characters in the series -- use to keep their true selves hidden. A meta-mystery about the enigma of human nature, "The Trilogy" is finally one man's deep immersion into the muck and meaning of everyday life.


'The Trilogy'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Adult language and themes, drug use, violence

Dominque Blanc...Agnes Manise

Gilbert Melki...Pascal Manise

Lucas Belvaux...Bruno Le Roux

Catherine Frot...Jeanne

Ornella Muti...Cecile Costes

Francois Morel...Alain Costes

A Patrick Sobelman, Agat Films et Cie, Diana Elbaum, Entre Chien et Loup production, released by Magnolia Pictures. Writer-director Lucas Belvaux. Production designer Pascal Bonnet. Cinematographer Pierre Milon. Sound Christian Monheim. Continuity Rene Falson. Set design Frederique Belvaux. Costume design Cecile Cotten. Editor Danielle Anezin. Music Riccardo del Fra. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes.

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

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