“It may get sordid.”
This trilogy of French films from writer/director/actor Lucas Belvaux is an interestingly fashioned story built around the story of an escaped revolutionary. The first film, On the Run (Cavale) is extremely tense. After Life (Apres la Vie) has comedic strains, and seems almost jarring next to On the Run and the final film in the trilogy, An Amazing Couple (Un Couple Epatant) weaves the three films together.
When I read that these films comprised a trilogy, I imagined that each film told a story in a sequential fashion–not so. Instead the films offer other views and additional scenes that occur off-stage in the earlier films. For example, in one film, we see a couple talking, but in another film, we see the same couple talking while a third hidden character eavesdrops. Structurally, it’s quite brilliantly executed.
On The Run begins with the prison break of Bruno la Roux (Lucas Belvaux), a former member of the revolutionary group, the Popular Army. He’s serving a prison term for a bank robbery that left someone dead, and his goal, once he escapes, is to kill the person who betrayed the group to the police. While the police imagine that Bruno will escape to a foreign country, they soon track him to his old haunts. Detective Pascal Manise (Gilbert Melki) believes it’s just a matter of time before Bruno contacts a former comrade Jeanne (Catherine Frot) who’s now married with a child.
After The Life follows Francis Rivet (Olivier Darimont), a stressed-out business man who’s married to Cecile (Ornella Muti). Cecile is alarmed by some of her husband’s peculiar behaviour and asks Detective Manise (who’s married to her friend) to follow Francis and see if he’s having an affair. After the intensity of On The Run, this film broke the pace of the tale, and is a disappointment.
The final part of the trilogy–An Amazing Couple–centres on the Manises’ warped marriage and Pascal’s hunt for Bruno Le Roux. And it’s this film that really shows the skill of writer/director Belvaux. Here we see the story behind the story, and things we thought we knew, things we assumed in the first film, are explained, discarded, or simply blown away.
The film’s central idea boils down to a revenge tale, and its main character, Bruno, is a revolutionary without a revolution. Stripped of his ideology, he appears to be just a thug, but his kindness to Agnes (Dominic Blanc), the morphine-addicted wife of detective Manise, makes him a more interesting character. But as Bruno’s desire for revenge takes hold, his rants to Jeanne illustrate his delusion. Like most revolutionaries, his life is led in isolation, and as a result, he’s gradually become out-of-touch with reality. To an outsider, his claims seem grandiose and preposterous, and in one very clever scene, he talks to Jeanne about his supporters (who don’t exist), and Frot’s face subtly manages to convey her realization that she’s heard this before.
While I really enjoyed this cleverly executed trilogy, unfortunately, the coincidences that weave the stories together defy credulity. For example, what are the odds of the escaped revolutionary accidentally running into the drug-addled wife of the detective who’s hunting him? The films are rife with these sorts of coincidences, and while they do indeed tie the story together, they also make it more fantastic in all the wrong ways. That said, the trilogy is skillfully constructed and quite riveting. In French with subtitles.