10. Trilogy on Modernity and Its Discontents or Alienation Trilogy (ITALY, Michelangelo Antonioni)
The Adventure (1960), The Night (1961), Eclipse (1962)
A late bloomer, albeit not as late as his colleague on number three, Antonioni made his debut feature film Story of a Love Affair at the age of thirty-age. However, when he made this trilogy, which made him (and Monica Vitti) world-famous, he was already pushing fifty.
Luckily enough, he was blessed with an incredible longevity (both in life and cinema), having died aged ninety-four on July 30, 2007, together with another heavyweight (the director of the top non-English speaking trilogy… to be revealed later) who passed away on the very same day.
Anyway… The Adventure is an absolute cinematographical jewel, filmed on some of the most beautiful islands of southern Italy. It begins as a cheerful journey of an upper-class bunch of friends, but takes a left-turn when Anna (Lea Massari) gets inexplicably lost in the raw wilderness of Aeolian Islands. Her friends then bounce, like a ping-pong ball, from the primal fear that they may have lost a friend to the cold and rational thinking that this is just Anna’s typical capricious behavior.
The Night’s main characters are portrayed by big shots of the moment, Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau. Shaken by a terminal illness of a close friend, they go to a party, only to redefine their long-struggling relationship within a sinking marriage. Of course, Monica Vitti has a significant role in the whole thing.
Finally, Eclipse confronts the beautiful Italian actress with Alain Delon, who plays an easygoing, neurotic, handsome young man whose meaning of life is reduced to the infinite rat race of Rome’s stock exchange and recreational relationships with women. After many ups and downs, the film ends in a very original way already praised on our website as one of the best movie endings ever made.
9. Three Colors (FRANCE/POLAND/SWITZERLAND, Krzysztof Kieślowski)
Three Colors: Blue (1993), Three Colors: White (1994), Three Colors: Red (1994)
Maybe the “most trilogy“ trilogy on the list is both a direct and metaphorical allusion to the French flag and its symbolism. After delivering us a series of beautiful movies about late-communist Poland, Kieślowski made The Double Life of Véronique, his first co-production with France which also brought the beautiful Irène Jacob to prominence, and then, finally, this trilogy, which turned out to be Kieślowski’s last three movies. They deals with the French Revolutionary ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
Blue, the first film, with a magnificent performance by Juliette Binoche, is story about liberty and its relativity, where the female protagonist tries to cope with the deaths of her closest ones. She is now free to cut herself from the outside world, but discovers that it’s an impossible task.
In White, the second installment, which deals with equality, we have another French beauty Julie Delpy in the leading female role. It is a tale of a fallen, shy man who begins his effort to restore equality to his life through revenge. An interesting detail are the scenes which could already be briefly seen in Blue, a trick that Spike Jonze later used very cleverly inAdaptation, putting small parts of Being John Malkovich filming in it.
Finally, the Polish director called Irène Jacob once again to paint what turned out to be his last film, in one of the most beautiful hues of red ever seen on big screen. Actually, he personally announced this to be his last feature film, and his sudden death in 1996 was just a sad confirmation of this statement.
However, in his last years, he did write some parts of a future trilogy inspired by Dante’s The Divine Comedy and years later its Heaven and Hell parts were filmed by Tom Tykwer and Danis Tanović respectively.
8. Vengeance Trilogy (SOUTH KOREA, Chan-wook Park)
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003), Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)
Most of us have seen this cult trilogy in the 2-1-3 order, first struck by Oldboy as something completely new – powerful, even brutal on one hand and hilarious on the other. Then we saw the other two installments with similar titles. We loved them, but we still have difficulties remembering which is which, as well as the name of the director.
Chan-wook Park opened the trilogy with a story of a young deaf-mute factory worker in desperate need to secure a new kidney for his ailing sister. He kidnaps a young girl, the girl accidentally dies and thus starts a spiral of vendettas very much alike those in godforsaken mountain villages of some Third World country. The film performed relatively poorly at the box office, gaining wider success only much later, when recognized as part of the trilogy.
The very next year came Oldboy and immediately became huge (unlike Spike Lee’s unfortunate remake). Suddenly, many of us were repeating the names of Oh Dae-su and Lee Woo-jin as if we knew them personally. A masterpiece of Korean cinema, yeta movie with such a plot which makes it perfect only the first time we see it.
A very important role in the film is played by the Korean language, in which the way the characters articulateperfectly blends with the tension and brutality of the plot. Imagine Oh Dae-su speaking in English, Spanish or Russian. Not that good, right?
Lady Vengeance’s central character is a girl who did time in prison for the murder of a schoolboy, which she did not commit. Her quest for vengeance and justice after being released takes us to the grand finale, an Orient Express-style plot to collectively murder the villain and all the questions and moral doubts that arise during its fulfillment.
The film is maybe even more visually striking than Oldboy, being one of those movies where you can make a random screenshot at any moment and hang it in a frame on the wall of your bedroom. Just like all Aki Kaurismäki’s movies, whose movies will be discussed further down the list.
Along with many recurring actors throughout the trilogy, kidney transplants are also a repeated motif that deserve an honorable mention.
7. Noriko Trilogy (JAPAN, Yasujirō Ozu)
Late Spring (1949), Early Summer (1951), Tokyo Story (1953)
In spite of being a compatriot and contemporary of Akira Kurosawa, Yasujirō Ozu is today considered by some of the most influential directors and critics as the greatest movie director ever,and Tokyo Story as the greatest film ever. Yet again, for a modern, rebellious, sensationalism-seeking cinephile, Ozu’s slow-paced, everyday-life films require infinite patience, which is not so easy to find nowadays.
The title character of the trilogy is Noriko, a humble Japanese young woman played by Setsuko Hara, whose adorable smile is a response to all of life’s challenges, from her family’s pressures to get married to dealing with life as a post-war widow. Although played by the same actress, and bearing the same name, these are actually three different Norikos, interconnected just loosely by a single woman’s status in post-war Japan.
The Late Spring’s version of Noriko is dealing with incessant pressure by her family to get married. Even though she states that she would be glad to, her connection to her aging father is the strongest emotion she feels and she cannot resist it. Early Summer, among other subjects, shows a somewhat more successful attempt to get Noriko married, but, alas, now her family is not satisfied with her choice.
Finally, the Tokyo Story Noriko is a widowed daughter-in-law who is the only character who shows warmth and kindness towards her late husband’s parents.. It is vital to emphasize that this young girl is only one of the characters in Ozu’s brilliant ensemble cast who embody a plethora of family issues of the era.
By the way, if you didn’t know, Ozu died exactly on his sixieth birthday. On his grave there are no names. Just the Japanese character mu which stands for “nothingness.“
6. BRD Trilogy (GERMANY, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), Veronika Voss (1982), Lola (1981)
The hyperproductive enfant terrible of New German Cinema, Fassbinder is responsible for the first film of the movement which hit it big at the box office. The film in question is The Marriage of Maria Braun, the first of three stories about specific women of post-WWII in West Germany, or BRD, as the title of the trilogy suggests.
Maria Braun, portrayed by Hanna Schygulla, is a married woman longing for her soldier husband Hermann who still hasn’t come home from war. She then becomes a mistress of a wealthy industralist, all the while staying true to her love for Hermann.
A peculiarity of this trilogy is that Veronika Voss is considered to be the second part, even though it was released after Lola, as we have noted above. The reason is simple – coherence of the timeline of these three fictional stories. Veronika Voss was inspired by the true story of a German actress, Sybille Schmitz, and her rise to fame and subsequent fall into madness. Brilliantly played by Rosel Zech, this black-and-white tragic story is shown from the angle of a curious sports news reporter.
Jim Jarmusch’s legendary omnibus Night on Earth unites many participants on this list. Now it’s time to mention Armin Mueller-Stahl, who played Helmut in the hilarious New York vignette of that film.
In Fassbinder’s trilogy, he first showed up as Veronika Voss’ ex-husband, but it was in Lola where he really came into the limelight. Alongside Barbara Sukowa, he really nailed it as an efficient and responsible building commissioner who falls in love with the title character, a cabaret singer and prostitute in a small city where everybody turns out to be corrupt.
In spite of their great performances, the co-writer Peter Märthesheimer once said that the two were constantly fighting on set for the status of the film’s main star, stating that this battle somewhat influenced the quality of the movie. However, as The Dude would say, “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.“
After the BRD Trilogy, Fassbinder finished just one more movie – Querelle. He died at thirty-seven from a lethal cocktail of drugs, with blood dripping from his nose onto the script for his next film, a story about the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, designed to be his Hollywood breakthrough.