Director: Alain Resnais
Cast: Sabine Azema, Hippolyte Girardot, Caroline Sihol, Michel Vuillermoz, Sandrine Kiberlain, Andre Dussollier
Running Time: 108 minutes
Synopsis: A group of friends fast approaching their elder years find out one of them is dying. It soon becomes apparent that the ladies of the group have a particular affinity with the ill George, while them and their husbands try to keep an amateur dramatics play alive.
A French film set in England, adapted from a stage play into a film but shot as a stage play, LIFE OF RILEY could be described as having somewhat of an identity crisis. At 91 years of age, classic French film director Alain Resnais can’t be blamed, and should be celebrated, for still trying to add a bit of uniqueness and experimentation to his films, even if it does feel a bit jumbled.
It’s always a gamble when presenting a film as a play. Last year it paid off for Al Pacino’s incredible SALOME, allowing for a stripped down and intimate portrayal of a classic tale. LIFE OF RILEY seems to struggle, despite being adapted from a play itself. You’re always aware that you are watching something that is not a conventional film, and as charming as a little swoosh of the curtain can be, you never feel involved with any of the characters. This might be in conjunction with the bizarre nature of a rural British story being portrayed by French actors, in French, but it never seems to harm classic Hollywood films with American sounding Frenchmen.
What the staging does allow for is some creative set design teamed with perfect lighting. The sets are more akin to pop-up book pictures, than to your run of the mill on screen locations. The lighting brings them to life with a clear sense of time and mood. It’s wonderful, but still can’t make up for the fact that the sets soon become tiresome as we revisit the same locales. It’s made even more awkward with certain inserts and establishing shots of actual locations before clunkily fading into the set. Resnais also shoots the film without much movement or consideration, meaning we often feel routed into a single place.
The cast help to inject a lot of life into the film. Their timing is excellent, as is their chemistry. The characters themselves are also likable, despite our better judgements, with a rare sense of honesty flowing through the dialogue. The unseen George is the real anchor though, and the fact he remains unseen adds to the comedy of seeing his friends trip over themselves and their own lives at his expense.
It may not be the perfect end to a career, but any 91 year old making a film deserves a lot of credit. Resnais sadly passed just after completing the film, and great enjoyment can be found in seeing the final piece of a man who constantly pushed himself and the medium in new directions. Far from perfect, a little bit messy, but fascinating nonetheless. The film has a lot of Resnais’ spirit, and should entice those looking for something a little different.
[usr=3] LIFE OF RILEY is released on 6th March.