Lucas Belvaux One Two Three Trilogy Review
An actor of some twenty odd years the Belgian born Lucas Belvaux turned to writing and directing with Parfois trop d'amour in 1992. With only two feature films under his belt in this capacity it would come as some surprise when in 2002 an ambitious project would emerge, a trio of films written and directed by Belvaux that would take place within the same world using six primary characters as we explore different aspects of their lives over a period of ten days in three different genres: thriller, comedy and melodrama. Working off the concept that for every primary character we see there is a secondary character whose story goes untold; this project puts two of the six main characters in the limelight per film, depicting their story in a genre best suited to them before they are relegated to a secondary role for another. The result is a trilogy of films that mostly work very well on a standalone basis, but achieve a greater success when viewed together as the genres chosen to depict the many sides of each character helps to round them out to a level rarely seen before.
The first in the trilogy tells the story of Bruno, who having just escaped from Prison after serving 15 years for terrorist activities within the popular army is high on the police wanted list. Bruno may be in hiding but his agenda is clear, find and kill the man he believes gave him and his comrades up and then live out the rest of his life in the foothills of Italy. Abandoned but secure safe houses provide a wealth of necessary equipment and a location to prepare for what he must do, while old contacts provide him with a means to locate his betrayer. Along the way however Bruno's motives prove too hostile for those he thought he could trust, while his emotions get the better of him when he takes pity on a junkie named Agnès which only complicates his situation.
Aptly titled On The Run Belvaux as a director concentrates on the notion of being constantly on the move, threatened by his surroundings we are plunged into Bruno's paranoia via a myriad of sensory assaults that confuse through their simplicity. The most effective being the numerous car journeys, with a fixed camera looking through the windscreen during high speed chases this results in a claustrophobic effect, as we only know where danger may arise through sound, a feature which plays a major part in this story. Sequences showing Bruno encapsulated by the darkness of his garage holdings with only a fire lamp to illuminate the solitary desk he uses to practice his weaponry skills further highlight the requirement Belvaux puts on sound, with Bruno flinching at the possibility his location has been compromised when footsteps can be heard outside.
Belvaux as an actor is most impressive. He convincingly portrays Bruno as a man willing to die for his cause, deftly sincere as he travels through the film in a range of often laughable disguises. Bruno is a man with a purpose, yet it's one we shouldn't sympathise with but through his actions in the early stages of the running time and the boyish charm Belvaux brings to the role we can't help but. The well crafted script delivers a wealth of intriguing characters and increasingly tense set pieces and while the anti-hero persona setup within Bruno is continually built upon Belvaux never allows it to fully take hold, yet when the odds against him rise to tangible levels his inevitable actions still manage to shock, both the audience and one of the key secondary characters which finally carve out the doubts within the lead character we always had.
An Amazing Couple is a comedy of errors centred around Alain and Cecile, a happily married couple of many years whose lives are sent into disarray by Alain's decision to keep his wife in the dark about a health problem which requires an operation. With his heart in the right place but his mind on vacation somewhere else Alain's activities cause Cecile to suspect him, not necessarily of infidelity but her worry is such that she turns to a friends husband for help. Pascal, the detective we first met in On The Run is hired as a private investigator to discover just what exactly is going on. Unfortunately Cecile has that effect on men which sees both Pascal and Alain's doctor making thinly disguised advances upon her whenever the opportunity arises, and in his current state Alain begins to suspect his close circle of family and friends are conspiring against him to ensure the operation he requires goes very wrong.
Traditionally the comedy farce genre is one I love to hate, for they generally revolve around a script so threadbare you end up screaming at the characters to simply shut up and come clean, saving both them and us a whole lot of bother. This works though and by and large it's down to the distance Belvaux puts between the husband and wife. They're patently unaware of each others suspicions whilst fully caught up within their own. Cecile is painted as the beautiful housewife any man would be crazy to cheat on, while Alain has a case of hypochondria brought on by the minor operation which steamrolls the setup. The third parties aiding either side add to the fun, the private investigator is a despicable piece of work using his position to edge in on his employers affections while Claire - Alain's secretary - and her boyfriend are put in situations that are sordid to the outside eye and deliciously entertaining for the viewer.
Plot devices such as Alain dictating his revised will throughout the movie to a personal recorder is genius, both keeping us up to speed with his current mind state and causing many a belly laugh along the way. Equally amusing moments can be found littered throughout the dialogue while Belvaux also resorts to moments of simple physical comedy that thanks to the energetic performances never fail to appear fresh, including Claire taking a little too much pleasure in bringing Alain round following his own hilarious collapse at the wheel. Importantly however the characters progress, especially Alain, and throughout the script never once fails to suggest something other than the happy ending could be in sight, and right through to the very last shot there is a sneaking suspicion in the viewers mind that not all is as it should be.
The final part of the trilogy, After Life is the longest and due to its reliance on events from the previous films the least accessible to newcomers, but also the most trying for those watching the three as one due to numerous repeated sequences (albeit re-shot from different character perspectives to often powerful effect). Taking two of the most familiar yet possibly least likeable characters from the prior films, After Life is woven in and around the stories already told. Pascal, the detective who is working on re-capturing Bruno while also playing private investigator to Cecile, has problems of his own to deal with. His wife Agnès, a teacher colleague of Cecile's is a morphine addict, and through his work Pascal is able to control her supply without going though a dealer. Despite her habit Pascal is genuinely in love with his wife and this is an aspect of his character that Belvaux reveals in this story, but deliberately held back on in the previous.
The heartless one-dimensional character depicted in the comedy piece of An Amazing Couple is rounded out here to become one we sympathise with. Pascal is put in a very difficult position by the wife he loves, the addiction he loathes and collision of police work and private investigator duties which drive him to question his love for Agnès, his moral duty in both professions and which takes precedence over the other. By far the most dramatic of the three each of the leads put in a powerhouse performance that requires a complete range of emotions to be laid bare on the table while there appearances must be sacrificed constantly to achieve the complete effect. Of equal stature is the scripting which beautifully ties this piece in to the others, adding greater impact to repeated viewings by revealing facts previously unknown to the viewer about characters who play only a minor role here, but a greater one elsewhere (most notably Jeanne and her husband who feature most prominently in On The Run).
The events which take place in each of the characters lives should be well known to anyone who has seen the prior films in the trilogy, and this is what inevitably makes the two hour run time drag but it should be noted Belvaux works up to a stunning finale that is worth sticking around for and made all the more revelatory by the resonance created through the tales already told but put in a whole new light by this one. The decision to not give in to the obvious shock ending is one I'd also like to applaud; I was certainly thinking it and almost willing it to happen but the film is all the more effective for not giving in to the sick and twisted events we often yearn for in film.
Visually the trilogy is accomplished, with each sharing an obvious style set about by the film stock and inherent grain but each can also be defined by the cinematography and camera methods employed. From the point of view shots and concentration on dark and light shades in On The Run to the bright, cheery and sophisticated look of An Amazing Couple through to the up close and personal, solemnly lighted and hand held nature of After Life. Via the extra features you can see just how well they cut together and could share shots from each other, but you can also see the achievement in taking the selected genres and matching the adopted styles. Sonically On The Run stands out through attention to sound design and some haunting musical pieces that aid the tension Belvaux creates, while An Amazing Couple features its share of light and frumpy tunes that punctuate the comedy and carry it well. After Life however uses minimal audio accompaniment, instead choosing to maintain the sombre mood through unnatural silence and raw performance.
Released by Tartan Video this four disc set would appear to be a straight port of the excellent French DVD release, with the added bonus of English subtitles on the extra features. Unusually for Tartan all discs are coded for Region 2 only.
Picture and Sound
Each film is presented in the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement in place. The general look across all three films is good, with print damage barely anywhere to be seen while natural levels of film grain have been maintained. Due to the different styles adopted the transfers do vary but each maintains the original look and introduces no unsightly edge enhancement or other compression niggles worth complaining about, making this a very film like set of transfers. On The Run boasts dark contrasts that are reproduced very well but like An Amazing Couple the level of fine detail does appear to be lacking, whereas the up close and personal photography style of After Life gets into every little pore on the actors faces giving the third film the edge despite its rough production value appearance.
The original French soundtracks are available here in effective Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 surround mixes. Listening to the latter I found that On The Run made the best use of the sound stage, with its heavy emphasis on action and chase sequences allowing for an aggressive mix that really complements the films sound design. An Amazing Couple is a comedy with little in the way of aggressive surround usage but it does offer a crisp audio experience with the rear speakers mostly being used for added ambience. After Life features a more natural sound experience, albeit with most of the background noise deliberately muted to allow the on screen characters dialogue to be prominent at all times. This results in an audio track that is heavily focused on the front sound stage, but once again everything is crisp leading to no obvious complaints.
Optional English subtitles are provided and do a great job. The only complaint I had was how in On The Run and to a lesser extent, After Life all non-vital radio chatter from the police scanners is ignored by the subtitles. One final complaint regarding both audio and subtitles is how you cannot switch them on the fly, instead having to drop back into the menus to change your preference.
On each of the film discs you will find original trailers, with the fourth disc in the set housing a selection of fine extras that delve into the trilogy concept with optional commentary by their creator, Lucas Belvaux. Unless noted otherwise all extras are presented in anamorphic widescreen with French Stereo Surround audio and optional English subtitles. Due to the nature of the extras which edit segments from each film together a handy colour code has been introduced to denote which film the sequence you are currently viewing is coming from.
The journey through Saturday in all three films is a 37 minute edit of sequences from each film in the trilogy, making up a single day. Available with optional commentary by Belvaux he takes us through the edit pointing out various topics of interest including how when the films screened at the Toronto film festival he liked how after two, the audiences were guessing who would be the lead characters in the third. In France this apparently never happened as due to the actor’s popularity it was more obvious as two actors who would usually be in lead roles had been relegated to secondary positions in the first two films. Other interesting points include how editing can be used in different ways on the same basic scene, to create laughter in one film and drama in another.
Here we find two sequences with optional commentary by Belvaux. The first, The Overdose (16mins) looks at the events that take place during and around Agnès overdose in the first and third films. In the commentary Belvaux discusses the different editing and filming techniques, how certain elements from each pay off in the other and how different angles capture the action. The second sequence (15mins) edits together scenes at the chalet from each film, which most importantly are the only ones present in all three. Two commentaries are available, in the first Belvaux discusses the technical side of shooting the same general sequence for each of the three films, all of which took place on the same day. His comments are greatly aided by spilt-screen techniques which compare and contrast the different shots from each film. The second commentary focuses squarely on the trilogy, where the idea originally came from, the order in which he thinks they are best viewed (Two, One then Three by the numbers given to the trilogy for international release) and he also takes the opportunity to muse on the role of writing, directing and acting.
In a short six-minute sequence we see how the same basic music is used in different ways to create the desired effect in both On The Run and After Life. Optional commentary is provided by Lucas Belvaux and Riccardo Del Fra who provided the films with their scores, and the discussion delves into the different styles settled upon for each film.
Presented in non-anamorphic widescreen with unmixed audio you will find the original ending (as it was first written and filmed) for On The Run. The 14 minute runtime is mostly the same as the final ending, the differences however are quite a shock and in my opinion would certainly have resulted in a confusing, random and on the whole unsatisfactory end to the film (especially in light of the trilogy concept). Optional commentary is available with Belvaux where he provides a convincing argument for why he feels the ending worked well within the realms of the trilogy, but confesses they changed it due to the ending not working for the film when viewed separately.
Three easy to find eggs provide you with five minutes of a hovering camera overlooking the script books, complete with scribbled notes and storyboards. This is all in French however so other than the pictures and the selection of music from each films original score this is of little use to those lacking in French language skills.
I've not seen a great deal of French cinema (or French/Belgian in this case) but every time I do I have liked what I saw, and this is no different. Sometimes it's amusing to think how certain individuals consider any foreign film to be 'arthouse', no doubt similar will be said of this project but what Belvaux does is serve up three very fine examples of staple genres in the film world. All work superbly as standalone films and paint a multitude of shades over each other when viewed together, with the third shedding more light on the first and second and vice versa. If you have any interest in cinema, French or any other language you should be sure to check these films out and this Tartan release is a fine way to do so.
Last updated: 09/06/2018 10:28:43