Trilogie Lucas Belvaux : Un Couple Épatant / Cavale / Après La Vie Review
Directing a film with a large ensemble cast presents a number of problems; the director has to progress multiple storylines giving each of the cast enough time on the screen to be fully characterised and he has to find a way of giving a sense of simultaneous parallel events while trying to avoid confusing an audience with intrusive split-screen devices. Films that flit between genres are even more difficult to sustain, yet Belgian director Lucas Belvaux seems to have found a way to do both. In his 2002 trilogy of films, he directs a comedy, a thriller and a melodrama - each a standalone film where the secondary characters of one film become the principals in one of the others. It’s a fascinating and ambitious experiment and one that, to a large extent, succeeds admirably.
Un Couple Épatant
Things get off to a shaky start however with what is generally considered the first film in the trilogy, although they can supposedly be watched in any order since they cover roughly the same time period. Alain Coste (François Morel) is going through a crisis – experiencing worrying symptoms, he is convinced that he doesn’t have long to live even though his doctor assures him that he is just suffering from stress. He tries to keep his concerns to himself, but his increasingly neurotic behaviour only arouses the suspicion of his wife (Ornella Muti), who has a police detective follow him.
Un Couple Épatant (An Amazing Couple) is one of those comedies that are popular in France, but are less charming abroad – a farce, a comedy of errors full of misunderstandings and co-incidences that frustratingly could be simply resolved if one person simply asked the other person a straightforward question. Instead they are completely dense and go to extraordinary lengths, bugging phones, following cars, making crazy assumptions and leaping to bizarre conclusions.
In stark contrast to the comedy/farce of Un Couple Épatant, Cavale (On The Run) is a dark, serious and violent political thriller. Bruno Le Roux (Lucas Belvaux), a revolutionary activist, has escaped from a high-security prison. With a hidden cache of weapons and explosives, he returns to violent activities – assassination and destruction of capitalist enterprises. However, after 15 years in prison, he finds that his one-time colleagues are no longer active in the class struggle.
A large part of Cavale is without dialogue, and the film features several masterful thriller sequences. One scene where character Freddie runs from shadows through darkened sidestreets is a masterclass in storyboarding, movement and building of suspense. Cavale however works less well as a standalone film, the overlapping sequences from the first film seem out of place and intrusive, and the full implication of events isn’t realised until the third part of the trilogy.
Après la Vie
By the time we get to the third film, the relationship of Pascal Manise (Gilbert Melki) and his wife, Agnès (Dominique Blanc) has come to the fore. Pascal is a police detective, on the hunt for Bruno Le Roux from Cavale, and at the same time investigating the behaviour of Alain Coste from Un Couple Épatant. His wife Agnès, is a morphine addict and Pascal takes advantage of his position to procure drugs for her. Agnès’ addiction has reached dangerous levels, but Pascal’s source for the morphine may dry up if he doesn’t catch Le Roux, who is threatening the local crime-lord Jacquillat.
Après la Vie (After Life) is a magnificent film. At this stage, the sequence of events is much clearer to such an extent that you know what is going to come next, but this doesn’t make the film any less tense. On the contrary, knowledge of the previous two films has the advantage of making events and their implications even more dramatic. Seen from the viewpoint of Pascal, Bruno becomes a much more mysterious figure, his off-screen activities leaving scenes of havoc and devastation in his wake. In addition to the complexities of the plot where Pascal has to compromise his career in order to get the drugs that his wife needs and catch the man who may have saved her life after an overdose, there lies a deeper, more complex relationship between the two leads based on trust, need, dependency and love. It’s a superb character study with two outstanding performances from Gilbert Melki and particularly Dominique Blanc.
Working as an actor in many films before he turned to directing (working with Rivette, Chabrol and Assayas), Belvaux held certain ideas on the development of characters, particularly how secondary characters can be exploited in service of a film. With Un couple épatant cavale après la vie Belvaux has found a way to explore that idea, creating a marvellous, multi-faceted look at a number of characters, capturing their subjective viewpoints and placing those viewpoints in a genre appropriate for each. Even television series, often making use of different writing teams, rarely allow characters to be developed in any significant way that extends beyond the confines of a particular episode. Other films have used multiple viewpoint aspects to give subjective impressions, each character’s version of events differing, Rashomon-like, according to the viewpoint of the subject or the narrator. Belvaux isn’t trying for this effect. Rather than subjectively alter "reality" from a skewed viewpoint, Belvaux instead subtly builds characters, viewing them from different angles in each film. It all builds up to a fully rounded picture of each of the characters and the events in a way that would be impossible in one single film.
All three films in the trilogy are gathered together in a French boxset and each of the films have optional English and Dutch subtitles. The set is nicely packaged in a digipack with a fourth disc containing substantial extra features and a booklet containing a text interview with the director. The only extra on each film disc is the trailer for that film, and a number of trailers for other Studio Canal releases, (which annoyingly have to be skipped through each time you load each DVD). A good deal of thought has gone into the presentation of the extra material on the fourth DVD, providing much more relevant and interesting information than the standard commentary and making of. None of the extra material however is subtitled.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic, the picture quality is not the best. The first two films particularly are hazy and soft. Close to medium shots look good and hold reasonable detail, but long shots suffer looking positively blurred and even out of focus. The colour in Un Couple Épatant is not quite comme il faut - blacks are dull and murky and a brownish sepia tint seems to hang over the whole film and there is quite a bit of grain and some artefacts. The darker, heavier contrast of Cavale fares slightly better with its transfer, but Après la Vie probably looks the best with its reliance on close hand-held camera shots and the grittiness of the subject matter. None of the films transfers cause any major problems, but we generally expect better image quality than this from a French DVD, particularly from Studio Canal.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is resolutely front speaker based, mainly centre speaker, with some wider dynamics for effects, but rarely any use of surrounds. The sound however is clear and effective. A Dolby Digital 2.0 track is also included, which is quite adequate for these films.
English and Dutch subtitles are provided. The English subtitles are removable and are excellent, translating each film very well.
Un Temps Universel
The Saturday in all three films (37.57) has been created specially for the DVD release and shows a re-edited chronological montage from all three films without overlaps. A coloured dot at the bottom of the screen shows which film each scene comes from. The sequence is based around Alain Coste’s birthday party and it features an excellent and informative optional commentary (in French, no subtitles) from Belvaux. It is a useful feature that allows the director to show the points where the films connect and illustrate what he was trying to achieve with the trilogy.
Un Temps Relatif
This feature shows two scenes common in the three films. As opposed to the previous feature where the overlaps were removed, The Overdose Scene (16.05) uses a scene common in Cavale and Après La Vie to demonstrate how different points of view were filmed, how different shooting techniques are used (standard tracking and dolly shots for Cavale and hand-held close-ups for Après La Vie). Scenes at the Châlet (15.05) is interesting because it is the only scene common in all three films. It goes into split-screen when two or three films overlap, again with colour-coding to show which film each take comes from (see below). Two optional commentaries are provided, one descriptive and one on the ideas behind the trilogy.
Un Temps Rhythmé
The Porch Scene (6.58) is used to demonstrate how music is used in the film. There is an optional commentary by the director and the composer Riccardo Del Fra, which is rather technical, explaining in musical terms how a single three note motif is used in different ways as the theme for each of the films.
Une Autre Fin
One deleted scene, an Alternative Ending for Cavale (14.04) is included in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with an optional director commentary (in French). This shows the ending as it was originally written and filmed and provides another insight into the director’s concept for the trilogy. His original idea was to show in Cavale what happened to the couple from Un Couple Épatant beyond the end of their film, thereby breaking beyond the confines of what a single film normally allows. After it was shot, the director didn’t think it worked (and he is right), so he re-shot the ending.
The colour codes for the films on the main menu contain links to three music selections from each of the films - Un Couple Épatant (1.20), Cavale (2.22) and Après La Vie (2.21) with images from the annotated screenplays for each film.
Lucas Belvaux has created a multi-faceted look at an ensemble cast of characters using three very different genres – comedy, thriller and melodrama. None of the films are particularly notable or outstanding on their own, but together they add up to a fascinating and original cinematic experience. The extra features mean that this boxset is a real treat for any French speakers, but the films themselves have English subtitles and this is a unique and ambitious set of films that deserves a larger audience.