Pascal is a cop; his wife, Agnes, is a morphine addict. She works as a schoolteacher; part of his job is making sure she gets her fix. In Lucas Belvaux's Après la vie, their marriage is further complicated when Jacquillat, the Grenoble drug boss who's been supplying Pascal, cuts off access until Pascal takes out the escaped con who wants Jacquillat dead.
C'est la vie in Après la vie, a somber drama and the final chapter in Belvaux's trilogy of interlocking stories that play out simultaneously. Pascal (Gilbert Melki) is an incidental character in part one, the thriller On the Run, and a supporting player in part two, the comedy An Amazing Couple. Here he takes center stage with his soulful eyes and chiseled, perpetually unshaven mug.
It's the best chance to consider what Belvaux's trilogy has to say about films, and how they're made. One message, of course, is that it's all about point of view. We are the main characters in our own story arcs, but second (or third) fiddles in most everyone else's. Moreover, as Mel Brooks said: If I cut my finger, tragedy; you fall down a manhole and die ... comedy!
Thus, when On the Run depicts Pascal's obsession with the sensuous and married Cécile, it's unsettling; in An Amazing Couple, with Cécile further revealed as a woman who thinks her neurotic husband is having an affair, Pascal reads as a comic Don Juan. But in Après la vie, with his troubled personal life on display, his focus on Cécile expresses some deeper need he never comes close to verbalizing. What previously seemed arrogance now looks like mortal angst.
Pascal isn't the only character thus deconstructed. The lead characters from the first two films show up in supporting roles here; On the Run's protagonist, Bruno (played by Belvaux), is in fact Pascal's quarry -- though he also briefly becomes, in a suitably ironic twist, Agnes' (Dominque Blance) savior. And Belvaux shows us a less sympathetic side of the doctor who is rendered as a benignly comic figure in An Amazing Couple.
If all this makes the trilogy feel more like an intellectual exercise than three complete movies -- well, sometimes it is. There's no denying that half its appeal lies in seeing all three parts, picking out where the stories overlap, and watching how Belvaux, with minimal changes in shooting style and scant soundtrack music, fabricates the stuff of three different genres. And the plot of Après la vie is somewhat repetitive and not entirely credible.
Still, it's worth a look, especially as Belvaux's summation. Pascal turns out to be the trilogy's most central character, as well as its most mysterious. In French, with subtitles.