As Hollywood finds itself in the grip of trilogy fever, Lucas Belvaux’s ambitious triptych – part comedy, part melodrama and opening with an excellent political thriller – is a welcome sight to anyone more than a little jaded by the onslaught of overlong and mind-numbing blockbusters (Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings epic excepted). Moreover, unlike the temporal linearity of the other serials, Belvaux has transformed his trilogy into something quite daring.
The three films all cover the same time-span and feature the same characters; the size and importance of the roles changing with each drama. In presenting his stories over the same time-frame, but from different viewpoints, Belvaux highlights the limitations placed on our perceptions of both the real and the cinematic world. A simple action or throwaway comment in one of the films becomes central to the narrative of the next, carrying with it consequences unknown to all those involved. It highlights the subjective nature of the artistic experience and particularly that of narrative cinema, where the audience is almost always a passive observer of unfolding events. Belvaux may not change that position, but with each ensuing film, he questions the validity or truth of the images presented before us. Though remaining within the Platonic cave, Belvaux succeeds in offering us more than one view of his world.
The ambition of Trilogy’s undertaking is remarkable. With each episode, more layers of the characters’ lives are revealed, sometimes with startling surprises. An innocent in one narrative becomes a terrifying destructive force in another. On that level alone, Belvaux is to be commended. But to film each part in a different generic style adds to the whole project. This works particularly well in terms of character development. This is most effective in part three, where Belvaux takes one of the least likeable characters from the first two parts and transforms them into the object of audience sympathy – and gets away with it.
It is possible to watch each film independently, but as this was never Belvaux’s aim, certain plot strands will obviously remain unresolved. There is also the question of which order in which to see the films. The order of release in the UK is different to that preferred by Belvaux. It appears that the UK distributors feel confident that a thriller would fare better with British audiences than a bedroom farce, as the first part. However, there seems to be little doubt that the melodrama should be last, ending as it does with the trilogy’s most emotionally charged scenes.
Trilogy brings to mind many other dramas that have employed the multiple viewpoint perspective, including Rashomon and, most recently, the non-linear narratives of Quentin Tarantino and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. However, it is the extent to which Belvaux uses this device to create his world that remains impressive. At a time when most sequels – whether they are part of a trilogy or not – are, at best, re-treading an already worn path, Lucas Belvaux presents a vision of not only how ambitious a trilogy can be, but the possibilities open to narrative cinema, without alienating large audiences . Thrilling, funny, moving and utterly compelling, Belvaux has created one of the most original films of recent years.