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Movie review: 'The Trilogy: On The Run'

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4 stars (out of 4)

Lucas Belvaux's "On the Run" ("Cavale") is a gut-grabbing movie all on its own, the fast, compassionate tale of an escaped radical terrorist (Belvaux), locked up for 15 years and now unleashed on a post-Cold War world he no longer understands--but which can't cope with his fanatic worldview and deadly skills.

Yet "On the Run" is a must-see for another reason. It's the first part of director-writer-actor Belvaux's "La Trilogie," one of the most remarkable cinematic experiments in years.

The interconnected films of "Trilogy" look at the same characters in the same time frame from different angles and film genres--thriller, comedy and romantic drama. "On the Run" is an icy suspense movie that follows the bloody, paranoid trail of a killer-outsider in a corrupt world. In this case, it's terrorist escapee Bruno le Roux (Belvaux), as he tries to reunite with old comrade Jeanne (Catherine Frot) to track down treacherous gangster Jaquillat (Patrick Descamps), while getting thrown together with Agnes (Dominique Blanc), the heroin-addicted wife of the dogged cop, Pascal Manise (Gilbert Melki), who's been pursuing him.

Part two of "Trilogy," "An Amazing Couple," retells part of this story from the viewpoint of Agnes' friend Cecile Costes (Ornella Muti)--also ensnared in Bruno's flight--and Cecile's hypochondriac husband Alain (Francois Morel). This film is a comedy. And part three, "After the Life," is a romantic drama centering on cop Pascal and his junkie wife Agnes. The most complex of the three, "Life" is also the most powerful and revelatory. ("Couple" and "Life," which will be reviewed separately, premiere at the Landmark next week.)

Like Akira Kurosawa's classic film "Rashomon," the full trilogy is an extraordinary experiment in subjectivity and multiple viewpoints--one that took Belvaux nine years to realize, from conception to final cut. But "On the Run," is definitely the film you should see first, and it's also the one that stands best on its own.

As played by Belvaux, Bruno is a surly rebel-athlete with a Steve McQueen-"Cooler King" squint and the ability to shift masks and deal death. Ex-leader of the fictitious "Popular Army," Bruno is based loosely on a real-life (still imprisoned) French terrorist, Max Frerot of Action Directe Lyon. And as we watch him try to reconnect with old Popular Army mate Jeanne, we know we're seeing someone who has outlived his time, a murderous instrument thrown back into a world radically changed.

Agnes and Cecile, pulled into the chase, seem at first a couple of innocents and Pascal a kind of schnook. True to its roots, "On the Run" is shot with the terse, cold-blooded feel of the true film noir. The rhythm, mood, even the camera style will change in the next two films, but here, Bruno's paranoiac intensity dominates.

Belgian Belvaux didn't intend to play Bruno, taking the part only when the original actor dropped out. But one can't imagine "On the Run" without him, his hot gaze or icy self-control. The other actors are superb as well, especially Blanc as the frantic Agnes and Frot as earthy-but-wary Jeanne.

Francophiles should be advised that in the French release, the romantic comedy, "Amazing Couple" was shown first; I agree with the American order. The sheer stark speed and measured violence of "On the Run" catch us up quickly--and the film becomes a searing portrait of a killer-idealist lost out of time. But as you'll see, there is far more to the world of Bruno and the rest than "Run" reveals. Movies, as well as life, contain many angles, many views. The complete "Trilogy" dazzles us with their difference.

"The Trilogy: On The Run"
Directed and written by Lucas Belvaux; photographed by Pierre Milon; edited by Ludo Troch; sets designed by Frederique Belvaux; music by Riccardo del Fra; produced by Patrick Sobelman and Diana Elbaum. In French with English subtitles. A Magnolia Pictures release; opens Friday, May 28, at the Landmark Century Centre. Running time: 1:57. No MPAA rating. Adult (language, sexuality, drug use and violence).
Bruno le Roux - Lucas Belvaux
Jeanne - Catherine Frot
Pascal Manise - Gilbert Melki
Agnes Manise - Dominique Blanc
Cecile Costes - Ornella Muti
Alain Costes - Francois Morel

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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EntertainmentMoviesUnrest, Conflicts and WarCelebritiesTerrorismArmed ForcesDrama (genre)
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