Life of Riley

 

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Alain Resnais bows out with his best screen version of a play by Alan Ayckbourn.

 
Life of Riley

Sabine Azéma and Caroline Silhol

 

The last film by the late Alain Resnais (1922 - 2014) saw him adapting for the third time a stage work by the British playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Even if Resnais had not been one of the greatest of filmmakers (his short work Night and Fog remains cinema’s most potent comment on the Holocaust) and one who not infrequently produced avant-garde works (1961’s Last Year in Marienbad being the most famous of all), his late fascination with Ayckbourn would have seemed bizarre. That’s so regardless of the fact that he was obviously attuned to the underlying sadness in Ayckbourn’s comedies. His first attempt, the double bill of Smoking and No Smoking (1994) was disastrous and, if Private Fears in Public Places (2007) was better, it was still very uneven. However, while still imperfect, Life of Riley is easily the best of the group and if away from the stage much of the comedy is diminished the pathos is quite beautifully captured.

 

Life of Riley can be thought of as quintessential Ayckbourn since it features three couples in different settings, divides into four section covering a period between spring and autumn and has two characters, including the titular George Riley, who are frequently referred to but never appear. Equally characteristic is the fact that several of the characters are involved in staging a play, but atypically there is a hint of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s classic film A Letter to Three Wives (1949) in that the plot here features three wives who might each be the one who will accompany George Riley when he leaves Britain for Tenerife (in the earlier film the question was which of three husbands was planning to run away from his wife).

 

If the dialogue here is spoken in French despite the setting being Yorkshire, it scarcely matters because Life of Riley is hugely stylised. No longer suggesting a photographed stage play as Resnais’s 1994 venture did, we find the director at his most daring and individual as location shots of houses turn into drawings ahead of walls coming to be represented by drapes which at times acquire an almost abstract quality. If this recognises a theatrical element, it always goes beyond it and when Resnais, often favouring long-held static shots, contrasts those with facial close-ups in the semi-abstract scenes he finds a truly cinematic way in which the characters can express their inner feelings. The style may weaken the comedy, but there are expert performances from a talented cast and the film is truly adventurous. Life of Riley is far from being a complete success but, even so, it is a work that is by no means an unfitting conclusion to the cinema of Alain Resnais.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Sabine Azéma, Sandrine Kiberlain, Caroline Silhol, André Dussollier, Hippolyte Girardot, Michel Vuillermoz, Alba Gaia Bellugi.

 

Dir Alain Resnais, Pro Jean-Louis Livi, Screenplay Laurent Herbiet, Alex Réval and Jean-Marie Besset, from the play by Alan Ayckbourn, Ph Dominique Bouilleret, Art Dir Jacques Saulnier, Ed Hervé de Luze, Music Mark Snow, Costumes Jackie Budin.

 

F comme Film/France2  Cinéma/Solivagus/Canal+/Ciné+/Le Pacte-Eureka Entertainment.
108 mins. France. 2013. Rel: 6 March 2015. Cert. 12A.