Alain Resnais’ Valentine to Love in Life of Riley

Everyone knows Resnais’ famous early films such as Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad,

Last-Year-in-Marienbad--007(, but might have missed La Guerre est Finie and Stavisky and a whole slew of others during his six-decade-long career, films that could have been classed with the French New Wave had he not protested. Passionately political, he explored every war and conflict through his camera, using every inventive technique he could think of.

alain_resnais( At the age of 91, he chose to base his last film on a traditional romantic play by English playwright, Alan Ayckbourn, the second time he had done so. Ayckbourn is one of my favorites and we never miss his plays, but his style is quite different from Resnais and I wondered very much what the film would be like.

1189695_Life of Riley 4( In fact, it was just like seeing a filmed version of an Ayckbourn play, complete with artificial scenery and sets, evidently meant to evoke the theater. This valedictory stayed away from the unusual screen effects characteristic of some of Resnais’ films and concentrated on the relationships among three couples who had just learned of a friend’s terminal illness.According to an article in “Notes on Cinematograph,” he did this to save money, but clearly it was an artistic decision as well to use the backdrops designed by his long-time collaborator, Jacques Saulnier.

life of riley_Jacques Saulnier_Resnais_3Resnais gives himself the same kind of limitations he would have had in a staged version and challenges himself to create a cinematic experience within them. He does. Very quickly, we forget about the sets and engage in the magic woven by a great director.

The-Life-of-Riley( We never meet George, but we hear a lot about him, first, how much his friends will miss him, then some slightly less positive feelings. In the play within the play, George is asked to take the leading role as a kindness, but one that some members of the cast soon begin to regret.

S1-18( We get the idea that at the end of his life, George has decided to indulge in mischief for his own pleasure. In fact, by the time the end does come (for George and the viewer) we realize that the French title of this film–Aimer, Boire et Chanter–or roughly, Eat, Drink and Be Merry, for Tomorrow… etc. etc. would have been a better translation.

Aimerboireetchanter( Somewhere along the line, however, one of the characters begins to wonder if George didn’t have a more serious purpose in mind in his mischief making. I won’t spoil it for you but let me just say George and Resnais succeed in reminding us what we owe to those we love and who love us.


This is a lovely film by a master based on a work by another master to whom he pays tribute. Don’t miss it.

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