Review: After the Life

Despite the closure evoked by the film’s title, Belvaux has suggested that his three films can be watched in any order.

After the Life
Photo: Magnolia Pictures

Damn you Lucas Belvaux! It’s impossible for me to say whether After the Life, the third part of the actor-director’s Trois Genres, works better as a standalone creation than On the Run or An Amazing Couple. Despite the closure evoked by the film’s title, Belvaux has suggested that his three films can be watched in any order. But I can imagine spectators being confused by the chaos of unexamined auxiliary characters running into each other should they approach After the Life first, and as such the film may be the most difficult one to appreciate under its own terms. Of course, for those coming to the film last (like myself), it should be easy enough to connect the dots and piece together the much larger virtual puzzle (the fourth film if you will). Belvaux’s trilogy is a failed exercise in genre warfare. Not only are these films visually unimaginative but the characters and melodramas don’t necessarily make the spectator want to crisscross their lives. Anyone seriously interested in how the three films work in tandem with each other may appreciate the way After Life ties a few loose ends. Among other things, the film explains why officer Pascal (Gilbert Melki) is so lax about capturing the escaped con played by the director-actor, but I’m not sure if Bruno’s random shooting of the police inspector in On the Run is ever given a proper context. After the Life observes the devastating relationship between Pascal and his junkie wife Agnès (Dominique Blanc). The sad Pascal is her dealer and Grenoble’s corrupt police department supplies him the morphine Agnès needs, but only if Pascal can bring them closer to Bruno, who so happens to be the woman’s savior. At the police station, Belvaux reveals a hierarchy of corruption; and at the local hospital, Pascal inadvertently unearths a hypocrite—the same doctor who seduced and comforted Agnès at Cecile’s party offhandedly wishes the death of all junkies. After the Life is anchored by Blanc’s brilliant performance as a woman whose love is predicated on the exchange of drugs between a selfish husband and his perpetually hungry wife. The tics, shakes and sweats are there, but it’s the devastating silence of her scenes with Melki that cut to the core. When her character threatens to go clean, Melki’s Pascal naturally self-destructs, not necessarily because of the lengths he goes to in order to score dope for his wife but the fear that, without the drugs, they will no longer have anything in common. Even if you refuse to play Belvaux’s Choose Your Own Adventure, do not ignore these performances.

 Cast: Dominique Blanc, Gilbert Melki, Ornella Muti, Catherine Frot, François Morel, Lucas Belvaux, Bernard Mazzinghi, Patrick Depeyrrat, Olivier Darimont, Alexis Tomassian, Yves Claessens, Pierre Gérard  Director: Lucas Belvaux  Screenwriter: Lucas Belvaux  Distributor: Magnolia Pictures  Running Time: 124 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2002  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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