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Part 2 of trilogy features fun-loving ‘Couple’

Note: This review continues where last week’s review of ‘‘On the Run’’ left off.

. . . that ‘‘An Amazing Couple,’’ the second film in director Lucas Belvaux’s ‘‘Trilogy,’’ turns what sounds suspiciously like a gimmick into a concept that holds water. Or, in this case, the sparkling wine of comedy.

The locale is Grenoble, but where the parallel ‘‘On the Run’’ probed the French city’s paranoid nightscape, ‘‘Couple’’ is sunlit and airy, with pratfalls out where everybody can see them. Alain Francois Morel) is a patent attorney, father to a grown daughter, and devoted husband to C'ecile, who, being played by the ageless screen siren Ornella Muti, would prompt devotion in a eunuch.

Alain has scheduled a minor medical procedure, but he’s the kind of Woody Allen-esque fussbudget who makes the leap from ingrown toenail to terminal cancer, and so he’s a wreck by the time he shows up at his surprise birthday party.

He decides to keep the news of his upcoming operation from Cecile. Since we’re in France, she naturally assumes he’s cheating on her. Reluctantly, Cecile allows Pascal (Gilbert Melki), the slippery cop husband of her best friend, Agn`es (Dominique Blanc), to tail Alain, who then becomes convinced that Cecile is cheating on him.

Lies pile upon fudgings, halftruths, and misunderstandings, and the accumulating stress causes poor Alain to flip out completely. ‘‘Couple’’ gets real laughs out of the hero’s attempts to dictate a new will with every sharp bend of the plot, and if director Belvaux isn’t a natural at the mechanics of farce, sometimes the pieces fall blissfully into place. When Alain staggers out of a hospital into a cornfield, heavily sedated yet convinced that everyone is out to get him, we’re getting close to the oxygen-rich zones of great comedy.

The film’s secondary characters are eventually yanked into the maelstrom of coincidence: Alain’s wolf of a doctor (Bernard Mazzinghi); his bighearted secretary Claire (Val´ erie Mairesse); her bluecollar boyfriend (Patrick Depeyra); the couple’s daughter Louise (Rapha¨ele Godin); pal Agnes; Agnes’s secret lover, Pierre (Lucas Belvaux) . . .

Except that audiences who’ve seen ‘‘On the Run’’ know that Pierre isn’t Pierre. He’s Bruno, the escaped radical terrorist at the center of that action thriller, and Agnes is hiding him out in exchange for the heroin she craves.

We keep catching sight of this other, much darker storyline — it’s like glimpsing funeral crepe through gauze — and also getting hints of the third film, ‘‘After the Life,’’ which opens at the Brattle next Friday. (Alluringly melodramatic, that film zooms in on the relationship between the cop and his addict wife.)

It’s misleading to say that ‘‘Couple’’ is the second in the series, really. In Europe, it was shown first of the three and could just as easily be shown last. All the placement of any one of these movies does is to rearrange the larger meta-movie you carry in your head. There’s something almost too immense to contemplate in ‘‘The Trilogy,’’ and it’s the notion that all narratives are playing out at all times—that we focus on one or the other simply as a means of keeping our sanity.

This is the brain-cramping territory of a Borges story, and, to be honest, Belvaux backs away from the abyss. He’d rather play games with genre. That’s fine, but ‘‘An Amazing Couple’’ can’t help but be tainted by the films in the petri dishes on either side of it. It’s still more remarkable as an experiment than a film, whereas . . .

(This review will continue next week with the release of ‘‘After the Life.’’)

Ty Burr can be reached at

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