Riley is dying, but don’t worry, you will not get too attached to the old
playboy. In fact, the title character never appears in Alan Ayckbourn’s play,
but we hear plenty about him from his friends. It is exactly the sort of sly
theatrical device that would appeal to the late great Alain Resnais. For his
final film Resnais went back to the Ayckbourn well a third time, adapting Life of Riley (trailer here), which screens as
a Main Slate selection of the 52nd New York Film Festival.
and Kathryn are rehearsing for their roles the latest production of their
amateur theatrical company (Ayckbourn’s Relatively
Speaking, naturally enough), but he is clearly preoccupied. Kathryn quickly
extracts the truth from her doctor husband: their beloved friend Riley has less
than a year to live. In violation of his professional ethics, the couple
discusses his condition with their mutual friends, Jack and Tamara, deciding
the play is the thing to keep Riley’s spirits up.
also resolve to broker some sort of rapprochement with his estranged wife
Monica, who has taken up with Simeon, a considerably older gentleman farmer.
Despite their history together, Monica is not sure she can handle a reunion
with George. Yet, she suddenly agrees to comfort her not quite ex-husband in
his final hours, when it becomes clear Kathryn and Tamara might harbor eleventh
hour romantic interests in Ayckbourn’s absent character.
it all sounds like the stuff of midsummer French farce—and French it is indeed,
even though Resnais retains the English trappings and Yorkshire country
setting. He emphasizes the theatricality of it all with conspicuous fabric backdrops
that look deliberately stagey, but give the film a rich, warm vibe thanks to
the bold saturated colors. The cast of Resnais regulars hold up quite well in
this slightly surreal environment, embracing their characters’ broad bourgeoisie
anxieties. While everyone projects to the back row, so to speak, Sandrine
Kiberlain and Hippolyte Girardot still manage to really connect on an emotional
level, as Monica and Colin, respectively.
course, verisimilitude was never an obsessive preoccupation for Resnais, who
throws it completely out the window in Life
of Riley. Instead, he offers us the elegant illustrated transitions
sketched by French cartoonist Blutch and X-Files
composer Mark Snow’s uncharacteristically nostalgic soundtrack. There is
even an apparent tip of the hat to Caddyshack
(in did-I-just-see-that moments nearly as random as Wild Grass’s closing scene). In short, Resnais was not long for the
world, but he was still having fun.
that is the key to understanding Riley.
On paper, the masterful You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet would seem to be the perfect career capstone, given its elegiac
tone and its pseudo-resurrection made possible through the power of art.
However, like George Riley, Resnais went out on his terms, having one last romp,
damning the expectations of others. The result may not be a great film, like
the late career masterwork YASNY, but
it is a good film, which is always a welcome thing.
if Life of Riley is not Resnais’s
greatest film, it might be perfectly representative of the auteur’s motifs and
strategies. Regardless, it is appealingly wry and sophisticated. Recommended
for fans of Resnais and Ayckbourn, Life
of Riley screens this Friday (10/10) at the Walter Reade and Saturday
(10/11) at the Beale, as part of this year’s NYFF.
Labels: Alain Resnais, Alan Ayckbourn, French Cinema, NYFF '14