It was the promise of seeing a film set in Paris that made me choose Three Worlds from the IFI French Film Festival programme last week. I wanted a typically French story, the kind which doesn’t wrap up neatly at the end and which leaves you confused enough to think a bit deeper into the plot. Beautiful shots of Paris? No. However, this is a French film which expresses human life, thought and emotion in a genuine way. First shown in 2012 in Cannes, Three Worlds follows the lives of three characters in the wake of a hit-and-run incident in Paris. Al is the driver and perpetrator on his stag night; Juliette, a bourgeois student and witness; and Vera, illegal immigrant and wife of the victim. It is Juliette who becomes involved in Al’s and Vera’s lives by seeking them both out – whether out of genuine concern or escapism, the director gives reason to believe both – and for a while mediates between the two. Al, struggling with guilt, now finds himself now unable to reap the rewards of his lifetime of work and his approaching marriage, while Vera, devastated yet strong, demands to know how much the French doctors will pay for her husband’s organs. In a time where onscreen death is often forgotten about with the change of scene, the depth with which the loss of one man’s life is treated was particularly affecting. The three characters grieve, and this fact surprises Juliette upon meeting Al, concluding that he is “not a bastard”.
Director Catherine Corsini is subtle in her exploration of moral dilemmas, never rendering the characters one-dimensional – it is even imaginable to excuse Al’s fiancée for asking him somewhat casually not to come clean, seeing all that she too has got to lose. Her use of the camera ranges from up-close shots of Al’s face to wide shots of him in his busy environment, and often serves as the eyes of one character looking at another. France is the birthplace of cinema, a fact which is not obvious today because of the dominance of English language films. French cinema is diverse. A scan through the 26 films shown at this year’s IFI festival sees films about a transgender man and his heterosexual female partner, two former punks rallying against capitalism, and one called Granny’s Funeral. Watching a foreign language film with subtitles is for a lot of people, I know, a chore. There is a particular scene in Three Worlds, however, where subtitles aren’t needed, and you realize that the French for “to scream” is “Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh”.
The genius of the film is in its inconclusiveness. Life does not arrange itself into neat chapters, a fact which Corsini respects. Subtle to the core, it is up to the individual viewer to decide what Al’s final gestures mean. If you are happy with your own conclusion, you will have learned something of the world – and not just Al’s, or Juliette’s, or Vera’s. Therein lies the beauty.