Director: Alain Resnais
Screenplay: Alex Reval, Laurent Herviet
Based on a Play by: Alan Ayckbourn
Starring: Sabine Azema, Hippolyte Giradot, Caroline Sihol, Michel Vuillermoz, Sandrine Kiberlain, Andre Dussollier, Alba Gaïa Bellugi
Running time: 108 minutes
BBFC Certificate: 12
Life of Riley (To Love, Drink and Dance), is the final film of master film maker Alain Resnais. Aged 92, he died not long after the film was premiered at the Berlin film festival in 2014. The director’s death offers a further poignancy to the film, in that the central character of the film, the eponymous George Riley, is never present.
Alain Resnais made his mark as director and editor of the holocaust documentary film Night and Fog (1955), going on to make groundbreaking films associated with the genre Nouvelle Vague, such as Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year At Marienbad (1961). Resnais’ unique and unusual approach to film making developed, often adapting stage plays to the screen, and several of these were based on plays by the English playwright Alan Ayckbourn. An example of this would be the film Providence (1977) starring John Gielgud.
Life of Riley is based on a play by Alan Aycknourn, and it is located in a fantastical Yorkshire. However this is a Yorkshire inhabited by French speaking actors. One can only assume the film was made with a French audience in mind. The film has a minimal ensemble of seven actors, representing two couples (Colin and Kathryn / Jack and Tamara), George’s estranged wife (Monica), and a man to whom she has a fluctuating commitment (Simeon). There is also a smaller part for a character named Tilly, who is daughter to Jack and Tamara.
The film has a hyper realised style to it. The opening scenes utilise an unusual camera technique which involves panning, odd and shifting angles, and edit fades. The hyper reality is further presented with edits of graphic drawings representing setting and scenes, and also minimal stage like backdrops when the characters are engaged in dialogue. This hyper realised style is a distancing device that in fact accentuates its theatricality.
The significance of George’s life is in how the other characters respond to the news he has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. These characters are also part of an amateur dramatics society, and there is a parallel story of how they negotiate the experience and process of being actors in a play. This set of stylistic and narrative devices are what in many ways make this film. There is the usual intrigue of dissatisfied couples not listening to each other, perhaps having affairs, and revealing previously untold romantic relations. There is a tone of regret, disappointment and despair, but also a celebration of the now. This is perhaps seen in the story of Tilly, and her sixteenth birthday party, which is the climax to the film. I won’t reveal this part of the plot, but it is a very tidy conclusion to a sophisticated and well structured film.
I suspect most viewers will initially dismiss the rather cartoon like, and stage set like design of this film. I would recommend sticking with it, because it leads to some unusual and effective comedy-drama that makes a change to approaches more tired and tested.
The entire cast deliver performances of a high calibre, and they are clearly very experienced and established in their craft. As to be expected, it is a style of comedy which is very unique to the French, although given an odd twist due to the Englishness of the setting.
The film is recommended.
Life of Riley is released on Dual Format DVD & Blu-Ray on 25th May in the UK as part of Eureka's Masters of Cinema series.
Eureka Masters of Cinema have produced an attractive dual format Blu-ray Disc and DVD, which includes an introduction from film critic Geoffrey O’Brien, interviews with the cast, a 36 page essay, and also some comments from playwright Alan Ayckbourn.
Review by Alex Porter