Sunday, April 04, 2004

Trilogy: After The Life (Aprés la vie)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 April 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Sunday Eye-Opener)

Well, here it is, the end of Lucas Belvaux's Trilogy, an interesting experiment with genre and perception. I think this finale (in that it's the last one released in both the US and France) is the strongest part, but there's a real possibility that I would have found whichever came last strongest. Certainly, seeing this movie clears up a good deal of what annoyed me about An Amazing Couple, but does that strengthen or weaken An Amazing Couple? When a certain connection was made, I must admit that I felt like I should have learned that in that movie, not this one.

After The Life, by itself, is a melodrama of sorts. It focuses on Pascal and Agnès, a policeman and his schoolteacher wife (Agnès teaches at the same school as Céclile from An Amazing Couple and Jeanne from On The Run); their secret is that Pascal has been acquiring morphine for his wife's addiction. Now, though, his supplier has withheld the drug unless Pascal helps him find an escaped convict with a grudge. Meanwhile, Agnès's friend Cécile has asked for his help in finding out why her husband is acting peculiar. Agnès, meanwhile, is not coping with withdrawal well at all, and the strain coming from all three directions is starting to wear on Pascal.

Pascal (Gilbert Melki) is a far more sympathetic character here than he was in After The Life (he barely appeared in On The Run); it's easy to see the strain that is piled onto him from all directions. Agnès doesn't come off quite so well; she's an addict and acts as selfishly as one might expect. Their story is, at times, secondary to Pascal's investigation into the whereabouts of escaped terrorist Bruno le Roux (writer/director Belvaux), and the perhaps over-the-top final scene doesn't quite come out of left field, but certainly implies more despair than Pascal seemed capable of. In addition, if someone sees this movie before On The Run, it will seem like the last act is keyed by a huge deux ex machina.

After The Life is the fulcrum of the series. More so than either of the others, this movie is the other half of the previous films. Pascal is the man Cécile asked to look into her husband's activities in An Amazing Couple, and though he appeared to be an obsessed lunatic in that one, he has his reasons. Those reasons have to do with his investigation, which is the other half of On The Run. If you can hypothetically only see two of the movies, this is the one not to miss, as it fills in the blanks in the other two movies.

Indeed, that may be my problem with the trilogy - each is very focused on one pair of characters, to the extent that it excludes other viewpoints. I don't think there is a scene in this movie that doesn't feature either Pascal or Agnès, much as there weren't any in An Amazing Couple without Cécile or Alain, or any in On The Run without Jeanne or Bruno. This makes for a good experiment, but it means that scenes which would normally be in a movie of a specific genre don't necessarily appear in that movie. As a result, the trilogy is more than the sum of its parts, but those parts are less than they could be by themselves.

If you go for this, try to see it relatively quickly. I saw it spaced over two months, and had to work to recall some details. The Brattle will be showing all three this Thursday (8 April 2004), and then one a week for the next three weeks.

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