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Aprés La Vie (2002)

After Life

A compelling drama

Directed by:

Lucas Belvaux

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 125 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Country: Belgium, France

Agnès Manise (Dominique Blanc) is a morphine addict, but manages to lead an apparently normal life because her husband Pascal (Gilbert Melki), a police detective, gets her a constant supply of the drug from crime lord Jacquillat (Patrick Descamps) in exchange for occasional favours. This arrangement works because Pascal carefully keeps apart the different aspects of his life – his police work, his criminal associations and his private life – but the balance is thrown into disarray when violent political activist Bruno Le Roux (Lucas Belvaux) breaks out of prison. Jacquillat asks Pascal to find and kill Bruno, and when Pascal refuses, blackmails him into action by discontinuing the supply of drugs. Suffering severe withdrawal and feeling abandoned by Pascal, Agnès turns in desperation to the streets, where she gets help, by chance, from the fugitive Bruno. Allegiances shift, betrayals and sacrifices become inevitable, and soon there seems to be nothing left of the life which Pascal and Agnès previously enjoyed together.

The tragic melodrama ‘After Life’ is the final instalment in Lucas Belvaux’s ambitious cycle ‘La Trilogie’, three different genre films, all set at the same time in Grenoble, in which the differing worldviews of a common core of characters are shown in collision. It is Belvaux’s stated intention that each film can be seen independently of the others, and in any order – true enough of the noir thriller ‘On the Run’ and the bourgeois farce ‘An Amazing Couple’, released in France in one order and in Britain in another. ‘After Life’, however, is best seen after the other two. Pascal and Agnès bridge the trilogy’s three worlds more than any of its other characters, and so it is appropriate that their film both opens and closes with a panoramic view of Grenoble from above, matching their uniquely privileged perspective within the trilogy – and ours too, if we have seen all its parts.

While ‘After Life’ offers many brilliantly unexpected perspectives on the events of the ‘preceding’ films, its need to remain consistent with those films at times works against its integrity as a credible drama. In ‘An Amazing Couple’, Pascal’s every action is motivated by his falling for Agnès’ colleague Cécile (Ornella Muti) from the moment he first sees her, leading eventually to a pathetic declaration of love. In ‘After Life’ we see Pascal in a different light – serious, tormented, intensely in love with Agnès, and with no apparent feelings for Cécile whatsoever. This is all well and good, until the inevitable moment when he must, as in the previous film, declare his love to Cécile – a scene which, in ‘After Life’, is no longer satisfying, or even coherent, and which cannot be explained away merely by the different perspectives and genres to be found in each film.

As a study of a breakdown in its main characters’ dependency-based relationship, ‘After Life’ is superb, but at the same time it is traduced somewhat by its own relationship of dependence upon the events of the previous films.

It's Got: A lead actor (Gilbert Melki) who looks like John Turturro, a complicated set of relationships, a grimly sombre mood, a very effective overdose scene shown from the point of view of the victim, and lots of unexpected revelatory twists given to events in the previous two films.

It Needs: To be seen last in the trilogy.

Alternatives:

La Trilogie 1: Cavale, La Trilogie 2: Un Couple Epatant, Rashomon

Summary

From its opening shot of Pascal's descent in a funicular, ‘After Life’ follows the irrevocable downward spiral of his life with Agnés, and leaves it to the viewer to decide what will come after. Better than ‘An Amazing Couple’, if not quite as good as ‘On the Run’, it affords the most panoramic view of the events of ‘La Trilogi’, providing many surprising pieces to complete the puzzle. A compelling drama which forms an essential part of Lucas Belvaux’s audacious series.

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