2003 Milk Plus Droogies

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Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

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Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

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Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

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David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

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Miranda Richardson, Spider

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Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

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Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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The Blog:
Saturday, June 05, 2004

My Thoughts on Lucas Belvaux’s The Trilogy

Well, it only took 3 months, but I’ve finally seen all three installments of Lucas Belvaux’s The Trilogy, as one of our local arthouse theaters has been parceling out the series on a weekly basis. After going back and rereading Phyrephox’s February review of The Trilogy, as well as the associated comments, I’ve decided to respond with my thoughts on the three films.

First thing first, I thought that 2/3s of the Trilogy was great, while the other third was mediocre at best, which brought the whole enterprise into the realm of the merely interesting. Basically, I thought that the thriller installment On the Run and the melodrama After the Life were very good films, while the farce/romantic comedy An Amazing Couple was rote, mechanical, and only sporadically funny. However, I do not think that the failure of An Amazing Couple to fulfill the requirements of its genre is what marred the entire conception. Instead, I think it is the fact that both On the Run and After the Life complement each other, being largely flipside of the same story, whereas An Amazing Couple is purely supplemental (and then not a terribly interesting supplement), because Alain’s travails, which make up the bulk of the film, are so far removed and incidental than the much more intertwined story of Bruno-Agnes-Pascal-Cecile (Alain also being the only main character to only appear in two of the the three films, and then only peripherally in After the Life; it’s interesting to note that in that film, Pascal first attempts to link Alain’s situation to the larger story of Bruno’s escape. Perhaps if that idea had been carried over into An Amazing Couple that segment would have worked better in terms of the whole).

After watching the entire trilogy, I think it is quite clear that the three films can, as Belvaux has asserted, be viewed in any order (the order that American audiences have experienced was created by the distributor). I disagree with Phyrephox’s contention that:

Sadly the last entry in the trilogy, After Life, is mainly of interest in the way the other two films intrude into its story and manipulate its characters. Because of this it is the only film that could not stand alone without the others; multiple scenes from An Amazing Couple and On The Run replay themselves in After Life, which would give the film a fragmented and confusing quality if played alone.

I can easily see how one person can come to this conclusion after having watched the two previous films, with the amount of backstory that the viewer has to draw upon (not to mention first impressions).

I think the one, minor exception would be during An Amazing Couple, since little is mentioned of the Bruno storyline, Jeanne’s arrest by Pascal and the ever-present roadblocks are left unexplained and may be perplexing to a viewer who has not seen any of the other films, but these incidents are fairly far removed from the machinations of the main plot. Otherwise the films actually are pretty much self-contained, supplying enough information to make their individual plots easily comprehensible.

I’m more charitable to what Phyrephox has labeled “intrusions” of the other storylines. With only one exception, a particular scene appears in a maximum of two films, and each time, the generic concept gives each scene a particular inflection, as well as only revealing a portion of the total narrative information (as I noted, the only exception is the scene where Cecile visits the chalet with Pascal, but each instance of that scene is given a different emphasis). An example would be the time Cecile visits the chalet with Agnes, thinking that Alain is hiding out with a paramour, only to find Bruno. This scene in On the Run is presented as but another obstacle for Bruno to overcome, which he does by outsmarting Cecile with a controlled performance, while in An Amazing Couple, the visit is just another manifestation of Cecile’s jealously and paranoia, with Bruno appearing as an innocent guy dragged into the farce (though it is interesting, having watched both films, to notice the irony of the bourgeoisie couple Alain and Cecile willing to give Bruno, the left-wing terrorist, a job). Another example would be the scene where Cecile meets Agnes and Pascal at a cafe, and asks Pascal to follow Alain. In An Amazing Couple, this scene seems like a simple setup, but in After the Life the conversation expands from adultery to Alain’s political affiliations, but more importantly, Belvaux includes a POV shot from Pascal’s perspective, as he scans Cecile’s arms for track marks, indicating his beleaguered mindset, and an additional motivations for his feelings for Cecile which are explored more fully in An Amazing Couple.

Since there are countless other examples of these types of scenes, as well as other scenes which appear in only one film, imparting information that can only be appreciated after viewing one of the other films (the larger irony of Bruno’s vengeful quest in On the Run being drastically undercut in An Amazing Couple, and that irony can be appreciated in whichever order you watch the films), I kind of find it surprising that Phyrephox criticizes The Trilogy when he writes “This last entry in the trilogy [After the Life] finally does what the other two films should have done-look at the different characters from different angles.” Depending on which film you are watching Pascal either comes off as an ambiguous, threatening presence (On the Run); a creepy, pathetic quasi-stalker (An Amazing Couple); or as a tragic figure (After the Life). Any of the interpretations are correct (and correct simultaneously), the way that the generic conventions have parsed information and affected staging has done precisely what Phyrephox has asked for, a complex multi-textured look at a character (I think Rashomon is a poor example, since that film presents four stories all of which are self-serving and highly subjective, if not outright lies, and thus it is hard to make any sort of pronouncement on the characters). Phyrephox’s own example of Georges is equally reversible, with the womanizing snitch of After the Life being revealed to a thoughtful friend (not that I thought he came off terribly in After the Life) if one would watch the films in a different order.

I do agree with Phyrephox that The Trilogy never reaches greatness, and I think this has to do with the missed opportunities of An Amazing Couple. With an overall conception predicated on creating larger narrative ironies and complex characterizations by presenting the same or similar information in different registers, wasting so much time on Alain, a character who is not really examined again in any other film, is a major blunder, which is unfortunate given the success of On the Run and After the Life.