Look both ways before you cross the street—especially in France, warns Judge Michael Nazarewycz.
It's easy to sit at home, watch someone on TV make a terrible decision, and say, "Boy, if that had been me, I would have (insert 180-degree opposite action here)." With the luxury of time to ponder the circumstances, with no panic coursing our through veins, and with no skin in the game, every decision is easily made via the armchair. Even if it isn't, it's much easier to make from that Lay-Z-Boy than it is in the rush of the moment. We like to think we would make the smart choice. We like to think we would do the right thing. Would we?
Facts of the Case
Al (Raphael Personnaz, 2012's Anna Karenina) is at the promising beginning of the next phase of his life. Not only is he soon to be married to Marion (Adele Haenel, Water Lillies), he has just gotten a promotion and been made 25% partner in the very successful car dealership that his fiancee's father owns. Al is on top of the world—until he's not.
On the eve of his big promotion, and less than two weeks away from that wedding, while driving home with buddies after an alcohol-fueled celebration, Al strikes a pedestrian with his car. In a state of panic, and influenced by the two friends who are in the car with him, Al flees the scene. Guilt slowly consumes him, and that consumption is exacerbated when he learns that Juliette (Clotilde Hesme, Love Songs) was a witness to the crime. She further complicates matters when she befriends Vera (Arta Dobroshi, Late Bloomers), the wife of the hit-and-run victim.
What I like so much about this film is that it takes quite a realistic path (for the most part, at least). Unlike another recent I-know-who-you-are-and-I-saw-what-you-did release, Hollywood's Dead Man Down, where accident victim Rooney Mara blackmails gangster Colin Farrell into doing her bidding after she witnesses him murder someone, and which careens off the rails almost as soon as it starts, France's Three Worlds presents realistic events as they occur to average people. How many times have we seen on our late local news that police are looking for a hit-and-run driver? What were the decisions made by the driver? What motivated those decisions? What were the consequences of those decisions? These questions are answered here, with a measure of drama added that the late local news might not cover.
The Three Worlds the title represents are the worlds of Al, Juliette, and Vera. Of the three, Vera's is the least developed. More than anything, she is the living embodiment of the victim, from whom we never hear throughout the film. She is more than a MacGuffin, of course, but any kind of back story would have been unnecessary, and the filmmakers were wise to avoid doing it. There is a small bit about illegal immigrants living in France, which comes into play concerning the victim's health care, but even that could have been avoided.
Juliette's world is slightly more developed, but probably not as much (proportionate to the importance of her character) as it should be. I like how she champions doing the right thing but loses a little zeal once she meets Al and realizes that he's not such a terrible guy. I think the film could have focused more on how her inner conflict and her friendship with Vera affects her personal life. She has a boyfriend, the father of her unborn child, who appears early and late in the film. In the beginning, there is some conflict between them, and he appears at the end, but he is all but forgotten in between.
Al is the most developed of the three, and Personnaz gives an excellent performance. From the immediate panic to the cover-up to discovery of his identity by Juliette and beyond, Personnaz always portrays Al as having a tangible, slow-growing sense of guilt that is always one layer below the surface with the occasional bubble-up. The guilt is not only for the hit and the run, but also for subsequent decisions he makes, which grow more and more ill-advised as he unravels. Unlike Juliette and Vera, who exist mostly within the confines of the accident and its direct aftermath, Al must also contend with the two friends, who are eager to put it all in the past; his fiancee, who wonders why his behavior is changing; and his father-in-law/partner/boss, who wonders the same. I only ever questioned the necessity of his mother, whose back story of having once been Al's fiancee's family's cleaning woman seemed an unneeded and ultimately undeveloped subplot.
What feels like it wants to be a thriller is instead a fine drama that unfolds at a pace that will keep you invested until the end.
The transfer to DVD (there is no Blu-ray alternative) is curious. The color palate is noticeably muted, something that seems less about technology and more about cinematography. This is okay, as the subject matter doesn't require the film to have colors that pop. However, darker scenes are noticeably grainy. The audio is perfectly clear and there is little other noise to compete with the dialogue, although I was concerned with the film's opening scene that has the drunken trio doing donuts in a gravelly parking lot—all the while drowning out the dialogue. Fortunately, it is short-lived.
As extras go, the offerings are lean. Aside from the usual collection of trailers, there are single-screen bios of the director and her three stars, and nothing else about the film. However, I give the extras fairly high marks because of the inclusion of a wonderful 2010 French short film, The Piano Tuner. The 14-minute film stars Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet (The Princess of Montpensier) as a piano tuner who pretends to be blind to do better business, and winds up seeing something he shouldn't have.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is a twist fairly deep into the film that I didn't see coming, and I like to think I didn't see it coming because it adds absolutely no value to the film. I think I understand the thought process behind the move—to create a chasm between two of the three characters—but there are smarter ways that that could have been done and it feels cheaply Hollywood. There is also an absence of morality among the supporting characters—namely Al's friends and his future father-in-law—that feels like they came out of a Guy Richie film. Sure, maybe the successful old man got where he is operating in the gray area, but a salesman and a mechanic, too? They're good actors in interesting supporting roles, just not in the right setting.
With the exception of one unnecessary twist, Three Worlds does a solid job of telling a compelling story and developing its main three characters enough to keep the film moving. It also has enough of a hook that I can see Hollywood remaking it (into something much more glitzy and hollow, of course).
There's no hit-and-run here. This film pulls over and makes sure that you are
okay. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
• Short Film
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