The sounds of breaking glass; an escaped prisoner; a high-speed pursuit; a slain accomplice - ``On the Run'' cuts to the chase, so I might as well, too.
The film is the first of an interlocked trio of Belgian/
French coproductions, released here under the umbrella title ``The Trilogy'' and each playing the Brattle Theatre in consecutive one-week engagements. The second film, ``An Amazing Couple,'' opens April 16, while the third, ``After the Life,'' opens April 23. All are written and directed by the young Belgian filmmaker Lucas Belvaux.
More to the point, all three films unfold over the same few days, all are set in Grenoble, France, and all involve members of the same overlapping circles of acquaintances - it's as if someone had crossed some Final Draft screenwriting software with their Friendster network. The gimmick is that ``On the Run'' is a bloody-minded political thriller, ``An Amazing Couple'' a romantic farce, and ``After the Life'' a stark melodrama. Each of these parallel narratives operates out of sight of the other two: the escaped political activist in ``On the Run'' is never aware of the plot lines of ``Couple'' and ``Life,'' even though some of the characters, scenes, and even dialogue recur from film to film.
The effect is like looking at etched crystal and seeing the other facets indistinctly through the glass. It also hints at the way we order our lives into familiar boxes while remaining blind to the alternatives happening all around us. Your slapstick may be my weepie, in other words.
This is an endlessly clever concept, and if it resulted in three great movies, we'd be all set. But because you can feel the crossbeams of each film's plot leaning against the others, none of the movies quite stand on their own. ``After the Life,'' the melodrama, is easily the best and most stand-alone, while ``On the Run'' is the weakest because Belvaux doesn't yet have the filmmaking chops to create a believable thriller.
It doesn't help that the director took on the film's lead role after another actor dropped out at the last minute. As Bruno Le Roux, a vicious leftist guerrilla who busts out of prison and goes underground in his old neighborhood, Belvaux seems about as revolutionary as a tax accountant. Still, he's armed and dangerous and in full possession of an outdated Baader-Meinhof -style radicalism that matters not one whit in the world to which he has returned. Bruno's former comrade in arms, Jeanne (Catherine Frot), is now a schoolteacher and mother; the man who sent him to jail (Patrick Descamps) is now a drug kingpin who wants Bruno dead.
This payback-revenge storyline, told mostly at night with minimal dialogue, is tense but familiar, and Bruno's quick-draw costume changes are fun to watch. Where ``On the Run'' ventures off the beaten track is in his relationship with a middle-class heroin addict named AgnÁes (Dominique Blanc), the wife of the crooked cop (Gilbert Melki) on his trail.
There are the bones of a great doomed romance in the scenes between these two - Blanc has an alarming shipwrecked beauty - but Belvaux is too busy twisting his Rubik's Cube to focus on it. When AgnÁes stashes Bruno in a country cabin belonging to her friend Cecile (Ornella Muti), and Cecile shows up outraged for reasons not entirely clear, this glimpse we're given of one of the other two films provides only dissonance, as though the sound were leaking in from the next theater over.
Still, Bruno's homicidal insistence that the revolution lives on is broodingly comic (although I'm not sure that's the intent) and the director eventually pulls the rug out from under him in a manner that dares you to be annoyed. Good things, these.
If you're going to commit to the idea of intersecting films - and ``The Trilogy'' is certainly good enough to be worth recommending - it helps to take the position that some stories may matter more than others. But there's no questioning that.
This review will continue next week with the release of ``An Amazing Couple.''
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.