There is definitely something appealing about the word trilogy. In any art, but in cinema especially. Whenever somewhere in the world someone says, “You know, I really loved Fassbinder’s Lola,“ or, “Man, I finally saw that Oldboy movie; it’s really something else!,“ on nine out of ten of the occasions the answer will be, “Yeah, it’s a good one, but, you know, it’s a part of a trilogy. Now you must see the other two.“
While there are plenty of lists on the web that deal with the best trilogies of cinema in general, where one can usually find only two to three entries from this list, while the usual high-budget winners range from The Lord of the Rings via Oceans to The Godfather trilogy, this list focuses on the mastership of non-English speaking cinema which, rather expectedly, narrows down exclusively to Europe and Asia.
Some of them are “unintentional trilogies,“ yet some of them deliberate, here is the list of the top fiften of which have somehow changed the history of cinema.
15. Millennium series (SWEDEN, Niels Arden Oplev/Daniel Alfredson)
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009), The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009), The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest (2009)
Millenium series is the first, and probably most, unintentional trilogy on the list. The now-bestselling, late writer Stieg Larsson intended to write ten installments of the series, but his sudden death (which, by the way, is painfully comparable to the death of another great writer of his era, Douglas Adams), cancelled his plans before he could finish the number four.
In 2008, four years after his death, Larsson became the second best-selling author of the world, behind Khaled Hosseini, which naturally led to the filming of the trilogy. All three installments were finished and premiered in 2009.
Thanks to the popularity of the trilogy, you probably already know that its plot evolves around Lisbeth Salander, an extremely intelligent young woman with a troubled childhood, a role which launched the actress Noomi Rapace to the universe of Hollywood industry. The really important part is the origin of the whole idea, which is as dark as it can be – when he was fifteen-years-old, Larsson witnessed the gang rape of a girl and was too scared to help her, thus he was left with a lifelong trauma.
One should follow the golden rule that the original is always far better than its US remake (Oldboy being the most recent example) and therefore see these three films and pass on David Fincher’s 2011 version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
14. Trilogy of Life (ITALY, Pier Paolo Pasolini)
The Decameron (1971), The Canterbury Tales (1972), Arabian Nights (1974)
An intellectual of world cinema, Pasolini became both famous and infamous for his raw movies inspired by some of the most famous classics in the history of literature. His three penultimate films blend into the Trilogy of Life which unites the masterpieces of Boccaccio, Chaucer, and classical Arabian literature. The movies are abundant with R-rated scenes and recurring amateur actors who refuse to pop their ubiquitous pimples, with a tendency to grow hair where it shouldn’t be grown.
Pasolini’s propensity for crudeness and unwillingness to compromise reached its peak with his last movie Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, the ultimate ode to human depravity, with Paolo Bonacelli, who plays the legendary humble priest in Jarmusch’s Night on Earth, starring as probably the most perverted protagonist in the film. By chance or not, Pasolini was murdered just weeks before the world premiere, and the case still raises eyebrows.
Even if you cannot stand the rawness and naivety of Pasolini’s world (an emotion which is not so uncommon), you should definitely see these movies. The reason – there is the new Abel Ferrara biopic out there with Willem Dafoe starring as Pasolini and it’s useful tosee a biopic with a certain prior knowledge about the subject.
13. Taiwan Trilogy (TAIWAN, Hou Hsiao-hsien)
A City of Sadness (1989), The Puppetmaster (1993), Good Men, Good Women (1995)
The prolific Hou Hsiao-hsien is probably the most famous Taiwanese director after Ang Lee. After having already secured an important position in the Asian cinema in the ’80s, he brought us this intimate and realistic trilogy that focuses on the efforts to preserve Taiwanese national identity under the governance of Japan and then later China.
The first installment, A City of Sadness, a Golden Lion-winner in Venice, is the story of a large family involved in the events historically known as the White Terror, the suppression of political dissidents by Kuomintang after WWII. Then came The Puppetmaster, which focuses more on the times of Japanese rule and its preceding and subsequent events, narrated by the title character, now in his ripe old age.
Good Men, Good Women, on the other hand, is a story of the anti-Japanese resistance movement in the 1940s intermingled with the interludes of an actress who prepares the role of the movement’s main female character, and at the same, time deals with the past of her deceased boyfriend.
An interesting detail in the third movie is the opening scene in which a TV is on in the aforementioned actress’s living room, where we can see the famous bicycle scene from Ozu’s Late Spring, which is also on this list.
12. Dr. Mabuse Trilogy (GERMANY, Fritz Lang)
Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922), The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960)
Doctor Mabuse was one of the ultimate villains of early cinema, created by the writer Norbert Jacques. Fritz Lang turned him into the title character of one of the longest-spanning trilogies in cinema history, with a thirty-eight year gap between the first and third installment.
The first one, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, is a silent four hour epic that can be explained as a metaphor of the society of interwar Germany, or Weimar Republic to be more precise. The doctor is aliveand present, he is a genius, he hypnotizes people who play poker, and extorts their money with the help of their own will. He never surrenders, even when surrounded from all sides by police, and he would rather go bananas or die than turn himself in.
The special effects in the movie, as in the sequels, are very impressive for the time during which they were made, something rather expected from the great Fritz Lang.
In The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, the new moments are the sound and the Doctor’s confinement in an asylum. In spite of the incarceration, he still uses his supernatural powers to run a gang of villains in the outer world where he wants to establish the absolute domination of evil. Released in 1933, it comes as no surprise that it was banned by Goebbels,Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany,stating that it was subversive and coulddecreasethe audience’s confidence in German statesmen.
After the war had come and gone, Germany split,and Berlin Wall was about to be built,Mabuse finally made it to the trilogy. The 1960 movie, The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, is not as impressive as the first two installments, not because of its lack of cinematic brilliance, but because of being released in the era when some new, completely different tendencies had already begun to emerge in the cinema all over the world. After the release of the third and final installment, other directors continued to make films about the vicious doctor.
11. Days of Being Wild (HONG KONG, Wong Kar-wai)
Days of Being Wild (1991), In the Mood for Love (2000), 2046 (2004)
Days of Being Wild by Wong Kar-wai is an informal trilogy, with only the second and third installment closely connected with their plots. The trilogy, especially its early ’90s installment, represents an important change of course in Hong Kong cinema, escaping from plot-based stories towards more intimate depictions of characters and their actions.
The first film, from which the trilogy later derived its name, narrates how people react to rejection and, on the other side, make new connections and create new relationships. An important component of the movie is the time in its most literal sense – many times we can see the exact time on wall clocks. Days of Being Wild also marks the first collaboration between Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle, with whom he has since made six more films.
In the Mood for Love can easily be called Kar-wai’s most beautiful work. The key phrase, which also resonates throughout the 2046 movie, goes like this: “In the old days, if someone had a secret they didn’t want to share, they went up a mountain, found a tree, carved a hole in it, and whispered the secret into the hole.
Then they covered it with mud and leave the secret there forever.“ This is the leitmotif of a movie where male-female relationships in the light of “reciprocal adultery“ are treated in an unusually warm and justifying manner.
2046 is a direct sequel to the previous film, where the combination of reality and fiction takes us on a trip to the science-fiction side of Wong Kar-wai’s world of emotions. Apart from being a number of a room, 2046 is a symbol of a dystopic exile for the emotionally traumatized, where nothing ever changes and ex-lovers become plain androids with delayed reactions.
Another common denominator for the second and third installment is an excellent choice of music, ranging from powerful themes of modern classical music to a total of four demonstrations of Nat King Cole’s fabulous voice.