- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

With “The Trilogy: On the Run,” French-Belgian actor-director Lucas Belvaux has stretched a topical crime scenario into a trio of overlapping features set in Grenoble. They share the same cast members, and a handful of scenes overlap from one installment to the next. The Landmark E Street Cinema hosts this cycle in a potentially confusing pattern over the next two weeks, beginning today with “On the Run.”

Booked for a week, it makes chronological sense as the starting point, but it wasn’t the spearhead when the movies were initially released in 2002. Europeans got “An Amazing Couple” first. It’s second on the E Street calendar, booked exclusively for June 18-19, and then as part of the whole trilogy on June 20. The concluding installment, both here and abroad, is called “After the Life”; it has the engagement all to itself from June 21-24.

To the extent that it can be credited with aesthetic integrity, the Belvaux “Trilogy” accentuates the grisly and despairing. Its best metaphorical notion is that people forge emotional prisons for themselves that may rival or surpass literal imprisonment.

The getaway episode in “On the Run” is a prison escape that precipitates everything else of melodramatic consequence. Mr. Belvaux casts himself as the ruthless fugitive, Bruno le Roux, a notorious political radical and terrorist of the 1980s. He survives a dead-of-night breakout that costs the lives of two confederates.

After abandoning the getaway car and two dead companions, Bruno hides in a Grenoble storage compartment stocked with weapons, currency, explosives, canned food, one lamp and other essentials. Supposedly, he’s so deadly that police officers don’t stand a chance when they later encounter him rolling out of the storage bin, blazing away as he rolls.

It’s rather more believable to credit Bruno with bullying and pistol-whipping prowess when he desires to intimidate people into complicity. The principal object of this pressure is a high-school teacher named Jeanne (Catherine Frot), a former member of the militant organization commanded by Bruno. Although still a sentimental radical, she is disinclined to risk her present life by re-enlisting in the largely defunct vanguard they called the Popular Army.

Jeanne has a colleague named Cecile, played by Ornella Muti, once the cutest Italian starlet of the early 1980s, fondly remembered as a sex-kitten Princess Aura in the Mike Hodges remake of “Flash Gordon.” Cecile and her befuddled spouse, Alain (Francois Morel), a patent attorney suffering memory lapses, become the absurd center of attention in “An Amazing Couple,” which belabors her obliviousness about his hapless hypochondria and forgetfulness.

There’s another basket case on the faculty: Dominique Blanc’s Agnes, a morphine addict whose habit has been subsidized for years by a devoted but misguided spouse, Pascal (Gilbert Melki), a cop whose duties include being on the lookout for Bruno. Mr. Belvaux’s boldest stroke of coincidence places Agnes, desperate for a fix, in the care of Bruno, who comes to her aid during a brutal encounter with a dealer.

Agnes overrates Bruno’s chivalrous propensities to a degree that intensifies the creepiness of her estrangement from Pascal. Indeed, their bond becomes so agonized and unsavory during “After the Life” that it may emerge as the most indelible (and certainly excruciating) phase of the trilogy. There’s no denying the sheer misery of their co-dependency. Tedium is also a menace that Mr. Belvaux fails to anticipate, and it gnaws away at each movie without favor or mercy.

For the record, “On the Run” has the best denouement, so there’s something to be said for catching it last. I hadn’t anticipated the farewell Mr. Belvaux had planned for his own character. Indeed, I assumed he had such a vanity stake in Bruno that he couldn’t bear seeing him thwarted.

I was wrong, and the circumstances are cleverly ironic and evocative, wedding shades of Raoul Walsh with shades of Henri-Georges Clouzot. All the same, you’re reminded that directors of their generation could have got everything Mr. Belvaux has to offer within the confines of a single movie.


TITLE: “The Trilogy: On the Run”

RATING: No MPAA Rating (adult subject matter, consistent with the R category)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Lucas Belvaux. Cinematography by Pierre Milon. In French with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes

WEB SITE: www.magpictures.com


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