The Trilogy: After The Life
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In the final installment of The Trilogy, his grand experiment in genre filmmaking, Belgian writer-director Lucas Belvaux turns to melodrama to bring home the cumulative impact of three stories, which all take place among the same characters over the same stretch of time. Following the taut policier On The Run and the finely calibrated farce An Amazing Couple, After The Life doesn't function nearly as well as a standalone piece, mainly because it's stuck with the thankless task of mopping up after the other two. The overlap between the films, once invigorating and revelatory, has now become merely repetitive, with several old scenes played out in whole strictly for continuity's sake, rather than showing something new. And yet, more than any of the three, After The Life conveys Belvaux's overriding thesis about human behavior, which is that people in the same circle can lead vastly different lives, and that a single interaction between them can take on entirely different meanings. In The Trilogy, context is all. No single character demonstrates Belvaux's theme more profoundly than Gilbert Melki (the troubled cop who pursued an escaped con in On The Run and tailed Ornella Muti's suspicious husband in An Amazing Couple), so it follows that he's the focus in the last chapter. Simultaneously a lawman, a crook, and a loving husband, Melki tries to juggle all these roles even as they threaten to come crashing down at his feet. He and his junkie wife (Dominique Blanc) are locked into a powerful and destructive form of interdependency: So long as he can score morphine for her, the marriage hangs together; if not, they no longer need each other. Having agreed with Blanc never to go through a dealer, Melki acquires drugs through Patrick Descamps, a crime boss who refuses to re-supply Melki until an old foe (the vengeful escaped con played by Belvaux) is captured or killed. As Blanc suffers horribly from withdrawal, she hits the streets looking for heroin, but a violent run-in with one of Descamps' dealers leads her to encounter Belvaux, who takes care of her in return for shelter. Belvaux intended every film in The Trilogy to work on its own, but After The Life would seem absurdly loose-limbed without the other two, because it's stuffed with minor scenes that exist only to bind the dangling narrative strands. Taken as a self-contained piece, After The Life has one enduring element: Blanc's moving performance as a junkie who knows how to manage her addiction, but falls apart the moment it can't be fed. Like Melki's character, hers has more than one side, and The Trilogy, when considered as a whole, devotes itself to seeing all the angles and dimensions of real life.