Trilogy 1: On the Run
review by Nicholas Schrager, 5 December 2003  

Lucas Belvaux’s The Trilogy is comprised of three different genre films (a political neo-noir, a comedy, and a melodrama) that share characters and storylines but vary in terms of filmmaking technique. The idea for such an ambitious project – an undertaking clearly inspired by Krystof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy – was hatched after the director experienced frustration over his inability to sufficiently concentrate on the peripheral characters of his earlier films. Ironic, then, that on the basis of On the Run (Cavale), the first of Belvaux’s three films to receive an American release (the other two, An Amazing Couple and After the Life, will arrive shortly), the French filmmaker would be wise to forget about his story’s marginal figures and focus more energy on crafting a compelling protagonist first.

After breaking out of prison, socialist terrorist Bruno attempts to both reassemble his gang of anti-establishment guerillas and exact revenge on those who ratted him out to the police years ago. As played by Belvaux himself, Bruno is an uncharismatic cipher, an automaton enthralled by visions of proletariat uprisings and enraged over the fact that his former accomplices – namely, a housewife named Jeanne (Catherine Frot) – have no desire to rekindle the revolutionary flame. With his comrades unwilling to provide assistance, Bruno teams up with the junkie wife of the detective who’s hot on his trail, providing her with drugs in exchange for a safe hideout. Bruno’s hazy political ideals are of the generic anti-capitalist variety, but the irrelevance of his goals (spearheaded under the moniker “The Popular Army”) fail to deter him from putting them into practice.

Bruno is a murderer, having killed at least three innocent people during the course of the youthful bombings that led to his imprisonment, and yet, like a true believer, he justifies such behavior as the unfortunate cost of carrying out a just cause. Given today’s climate of terrorist-inspired fear and intimidation, one finds it hard to accept Bruno as anything but a dangerous lout, and since Belvaux seems to recognize that he cannot hope to engender audience sympathy with such a brute, he attempts to disguise Bruno as a classic film noir protagonist. Thus, Bruno is depicted as a man alienated from mainstream society and devoted to his own rigorous code of behavior, frequently photographed in enveloping pools of inky blackness. Shots of Bruno methodically assembling and dismantling his firearm, as well as the image of him lying deathly still on a darkened room’s bed, make reference to Jean-Pierre Melville’s noir masterpiece Le Samouraď. Yet it’s obvious that Belvaux is only interested in the self-conscious trappings of noir – his film employs some of the genre’s superficial elements (characters’ faces cloaked in darkness, men who exist on society’s boundaries) but lacks the doom-laden romanticism and existential malaise (not to mention the visceral energy and oft-times perverted sexuality) that characterizes noir. Bruno seems doomed from the film’s outset but, unlike the archetypal noir hero, his ultimate undoing seems not the result of fate’s cruel and arbitrary hand, but rather that of the director’s affected simulation of such extant forces.

What the film does best – and perhaps the only thing it does right – is set up an intriguing scenario in which we watch a committed zealot flounder about in emotional and psychological turmoil. Bruno, still convinced that the “bosses” must be punished for their ill-defined crimes against the working class, returns to the world only to discover that the capitalist system he loathes has long since won the ideological war, and that his now-outdated convictions brand him an outsider unable to peacefully exist in modern society. If, that is, Bruno really subscribes to his own brand of revolutionary fanaticism in the first place. When Jeanne confronts him about the lives he’s taken, the terrorist weakly and unconvincingly attempts to write them off as mere collateral damage, and he spends at least as much time during his first week on the lam attempting to carry out personal vendettas as he does organizing his socialist uprising. Such ambiguous motivations, however, can only work if one finds Bruno to be a gripping character in the first place, but his ill-defined beliefs and pointless, desperate actions make him the least alluring or fascinating criminal in recent cinema. As a portrait of one loser’s dawning realization of his own loser status, the film is a timely if dull character study. As a suspenseful thriller, however, On the Run is a sluggish bore.

Written and
Directed by:

Lucas Belvaux

Catherine Frot
Lucas Belvaux
Dominique Blanc
Ornella Muti
Gilbert Melki
Yves Claessens
Olivier Darimont
Patrick Descamps
Christine Henkart
Herve Livet
Alexis Tomassian

NR - Not Rated
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