Resnais’s second movie in a row about a group of actors rallying around a dying friend. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet was a perfect final film, but Resnais was still alive and working, so he made another one. It’s just as playful, but more in the story than the filmmaking – this time the never-seen dying friend uses his situation to steal all the women.
Actually called Aimer, Boire et Chanter (google: Loving, Drinking and Singing), which is a wonderful title for the final film of one of our greatest directors – but Life of Riley was the title of the Alan Ayckbourn play it adapts. Resnais’s third Alan Ayckbourn adaptation, fourth if you consider Smoking/No Smoking two movies, fourth-and-a-half if you consider the play-within-the-film here is Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking.
The players: Kathryn (the great Sabine Azéma) and her balding clock-watcher husband Colin (Hippolyte Girardot, Anne Consigny’s husband in A Christmas Tale, ensemble in You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet) live in a comfy row house.
The dying man’s wealthy best friend Jack (sideburnsed Michel Vuillermoz of the last two Resnais films) and wife Tamara (Caroline Silhol, young rich guy’s mom in A Girl Cut In Two) live in a nice, big house.
The dying man’s ex-wife Monica (Sandrine Kiberlain of Benoît Jacquot’s Seventh Heaven) and her new man, the much older Simeon (André Dussollier in his eighth Resnais film) live at Simeon’s place in the country.
Tamara, Monica, Kathryn:
Colin, Jack, Simeon:
George Riley, afflicted with cancer, is never seen or heard, nor is the amateur theater director who casts a few of our characters in Relatively Speaking, which they’re rehearsing throughout the film. Kathryn and Tamara convince a reluctant Monica to move back in with Riley for a few weeks, but all three women start spending too much time at his house, and each is personally invited to go on a final vacation with him after the play closes. Each is tempted: Tamara’s upset that her husband is cheating, Monica was Riley’s wife for years, and Kathryn almost married Riley before meeting Colin. Ultimately Colin and Kathryn’s daughter Tilly sneaks away and joins Riley on the trip, during which he passes away.
Almost all the action is set on backyard patios – blatantly artificial, stagey sets (house walls are represented with hanging strips of cloth). Establishing shots are drawings. Closeups are always set against a b/w crosshatch pattern. And there are a couple of appearances by an angry-looking puppet groundhog. Lovely, light music by Mark Snow. Won prizes at Berlin, playing with Boyhood, Beloved Sisters and winner Black Coal, Thin Ice.
M. D’Angelo: “In years to come I’m probably just gonna mentally reverse the order of these last two films, so as to let him go out on a high note,” and D. Ehrlich calls it “Alain Resnais’ YOU AIN’T SEEN AN INFINITELY MORE INTERESTING VERSION OF THIS LAST YEAR?”
V. Rizov: “It may be impossible (for me, anyway) to understand what repeatedly drew Resnais to these rather mediocre Alan Ayckbourn plays, but his commitment to rendering them nearly impossible to understand intent-wise is a beguiling final spectacle of its own.”
Tilly at the funeral:
Max Nelson for Reverse Shot:
Colin and Kathryn’s beautiful teenage daughter, who comes to the old seducer’s funeral, is the film’s trump card; her serene indifference to the event is a kind of mirror image to the equally serene god’s-eye perspective with which the movie treats its heroes … The couple’s daughter, on the other hand, speaks the unflappably confident language of a person just starting to live. To say that the movie lacks the terms to interpret this language is only to say that it’s a film made in the spirit of old age rather than that of youth — but few swan songs cede the floor to a younger generation this graciously, or with such mischievous parting words.
Fascinating, mostly unrelated, from Cinema Scope:
After meeting in the late ’60’s, Resnais and [Marvel Comics visionary Stan] Lee first worked together in 1971 on a screenplay called The Monster Maker, about a schlock-horror filmmaker who attempts to go legit by making a prestige picture about imminent ecological disaster. Though the pair managed to sell the script, the project failed to find financing when producers balked at the cost of creating a climactic deluge of rubbish that would choke the streets of New York. (A later project called The Inmates, a romantic comedy that revealed how humans were exiled to Earth long ago as punishment for extraterrestrial wrongdoing, never made it past the treatment stage, while Lee’s proposal for Resnais to direct Spider-Man – with Henry Winkler in the lead – may not have even made it that far.)
So, it’s far from the best Resnais film, as most of the reviews I’ve read agree, but as F. Nehme said, “it’s still an affectionate coda for a master,” and that’s nothing to sneeze at. After all, the death of Riley didn’t move me, but the phrase in Richard Brody’s review, “Sabine Azéma — Resnais’s wife, now his widow,” is the saddest I’ve read all month.