Monday, November 3, 2014

Alain Resnais’s "Life of Riley"

They say life is not a rehearsal, but Alain Resnais's Life of Riley (Aimer, boire et chanter and not La Vie de Reilly is curiously the French title) portrays human existence as a series of rehearsals which take place totally off stage. Resnais last work. which premiered at The New York Film Festival and is now in theatrical release (he died in March) may seem like a far cry from Last Year at Marienbad, the l961 film, staged in an aristocratic chateau which created the director’s international reputation. The landscape is suburban and Life of Riley poses as a comedy of manners about the entanglements of a series of couples. Riley is based on an Alan Ayckbourn play while Last Year at Marienbad was shot from a script written Alain Robbe-Grillet, a master of the nouveau roman, and memory, one of the major themes of both Marienbad and Night and Fog, his classic documentary about Nazi concentration camps, is not a major theme in Riley. But the two movies share a remarkably similar air of mystery, despite their radically different tones and settings. In Riley, for example one of the main characters George, who is involved sexually with nearly all the women, never even appears. George functions like Hickey in The Iceman Cometh. He gains his power by his absence. The only other character who is talked about, but who never manages to make an appearance is significantly the director, Peggy. While Marienbad evoked an air of menace, Riley presents similarly disconcerting notions under the guise of lighthearted comedy. Reality looks like a stage set filled with scrims and topiaries and there is even an audience to the play that is not being rehearsed, composed of workers and attendees at a 16 year old’s party. Meanwhile Resnais further usurps the viewer’s bearings by introducing animations, head shots held tight against an abstract hatched backdrop and recurring shots taken from the point of view of a car rolling through the English countryside towards destinations that are not necessarily those connected to the hermetic couplings taking place on the “set.” Jack, Tamara, Colin, Kathyrn, Monica and Simeon are the couples and Monica, Colin, Kathryn and George constitute the cast. But what is the play within the play of the movie and what if anything does it have to do with the action occurring on Resnais’s set?

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