Quiet, restrained, slow, no flash, no obvious SFX
Vincent Poirier | Tokyo, Japan | 10/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Either you enjoy European cinema or you don't.
Hollywood blockbusters overwhelm your senses and leave you breathless and dazed but without being too intellectually demanding; Quentin Tarentino not withstanding Hollywood doesn't leave audiences confused. The Hollywood philosophy is that people don't want to think when they go to the movies. I believe this is true for most people most of the time. (Well it's true for me anyway.) I also believe that most people do enjoy something thoughtful some of the time and Lucas Belvaux's trilogy then fits the bill.
The three movies of the trilogy do not take place one after the other, but all at the same time. We see the same people and sometimes the same scenes but following a different dramatic progression.
The movies follow three women, Cécile, Jeanne, and Agnès. They teach at the same university in Grenoble, France. All women appear in all three movies, but each film focuses on just one.
The first film starts with a worried Cécile organizing a surprise party for her hypochondriac husband Alain who is trying to hide his (he belives) terminal condition from her. She mistakenly suspects him of having an affair. The surprise party scenes appear in all three films. Her colleagues Jeanne and Agnès both come, and Agnès faints after drinking too much champagne.
The second film, with the most complex plot of the three, centers on an old Marxist revolutionary friend of Jeanne's named Bruno. Bruno escapes from jail and makes for Grenoble where he tries to enlist Jeanne in continuing the revolution. She's now a married mother and refuses, but provides some assistance. During the party scene, we see Jeanne helping Agnès recover from her fainting spell, with no one realizing she needs a fix. Agnès was supplied by her policeman husband Pascal who had an arrangement with the local mob boss: supplies in exchange for no trouble. Bruno and the mobster were linked and Bruno was out for his blood. The mobster wants Pascal to kill Bruno, rather than arrest him, and cuts off Agnès supply until Bruno is out of commission. While prowling around Grenoble at night, Bruno bumps into Agnès who is looking for a fix. Agnès's husband Pascal is looking for Bruno.
Agnès and her policeman husband Pascal are the focus of the third film. When the party scenes comes up there we already know (from that movie) that she is a drug addict going through withdrawal, which we did not know when she fainted in the first film. We follow what it means for an addict to face withdrawal and that the educated elite fare no better than anyone else.
Each of the movies stands on its own but taken as a trilogy we realize that neatly packaged stories only present us with a slice of life, that what is a detail or a distraction in one film contains the seed for just as dramatic or poignant a story in another film.
Vincent Poirier, Dublin"