With sympathy toward all and irony toward none, Three Worlds maps the fraught ethical terrain traversed by a trio of characters following a fatal hit-and-run accident in Paris. Motivated by fear, guilt, money, lust, and a desire for a better life, the three aspirant characters in Catherine Corsini's film hem and haw and struggle to do the right thing, often wavering between self-interest and more noble impulses. If the film's presentation of these moral quandaries is admirably complex, though, it also comes across as just a little bit too studied, straining a tad too hard for an admittedly admirable balance of understanding toward its characters.
Corsini's chief difficulty with achieving such a balance is the need to empathize with the perpetrator of the central crime. The writer-director achieves this aim by situating the character in question, Al (Raphaël Personnaz), within a social context of inherited want and economic striving. Born of humble circumstances, Al has worked his way up the ladder at a car dealership, rising from salesman to executive and cementing his status by marrying the boss's daughter. With one foot in the past, embodied by his old pals, fellow car dealers who've failed to similarly better themselves, and from whom Al increasingly distances himself, the ambitious young man is poised for a brilliant future. At least until he takes a joyride one night with these same pals and hits a man with his car before panicking and driving off.
The incident soon brings together the film's other two principal characters: med student Juliette (Clotilde Hesme) and the wife of the accident victim, Vera (Arta Dobroshi). When the former witnesses the crime, she attempts to track down the victim's family, but since he was an undocumented immigrant, this takes a little doing. Soon enough, though, Juliette gets in touch with Vera and the two begin spending time together. An unexpected visit by Al to the hospital, an attempt to vitiate his guilt, brings him into the picture as Juliette figures out that he's the perp, and then has to decide how to attempt to make restitution.
Juliette becomes something of a surrogate for the filmmaker as she's not only chiefly in charge of negotiating the film's action (particularity in her decision whether or not to turn in Al), but her sympathetic understanding of both Al and Vera's untenable positions reflects that of Corsini. Juliette's efforts to affect some kind of settlement between the two other characters without implicating the victim, though, are a bit more problematic. While her uncertainty provides the film with its dramatic hinge, her decision seems more of a necessary narrative device than the natural upshot of her intelligence and sensitivity.
Similarly, the film's sympathy for the hit-and-run perpetrator is more than a little overstated. While Al suffers inward tortures for his crime, and movingly informs Vera that her husband's death "is forever engraved in my heart," he ultimately gets off easy and is allowed a certain moral stature that seems a bit questionable. Still, in contrasting Al's ambitions with the more modest aspirations of Vera and her family, Corsini understands the varying levels of economic success open to different individuals. If her film still feels a little too deliberately balanced in its depiction of its three leads, then it largely makes up the difference with its informed grounding in the economic and social terrain of contemporary France.