Life of Riley (4 stars)

Life of Riley

Alain Resnais' final film is an elegant closer to a fine career

Alain Resnais died last March at the age of 91, just three weeks after his final work was among the prize winners at Berlin. It's heartening to discover that the playful, experimental instincts that marked his 70 year career remained constant until the very end.

Life of Riley (Aimer, Boire et Chanter) marks his third adaptation of an Alan Ayckbourn play (following 1993's Smoking/No Smoking and 2006's Private Fears in Public Places) and, once again, Resnais goes out of his way to underline the artificiality of his approach. The locations are undisguised sound-stages, the sets are little more than painted backdrops and the shrubbery is cardboard. On the surface, it couldn't feel less like a film and will undoubtedly alienate many. But there is such tender conviction in the performances and such easy assurance in the flowing camerawork and editing that you are obliged to concentrate even more fully on the substance rather than the style.

The story is set in rural England and revolves around three couples, an amateur production of an Ayckbourn play, and the discovery that a close mutual friend (the unseen George Riley) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Colin (Hippolyte Girardot) is the bearer of the sad tidings that his wife Kathryn (Sabine Azéma) shares with Jack (Michel Vuillermoz) and his wife Tamara (Caroline Sihol). George's estranged wife Monica (Sandrine Kiberlain) has already begun a new romance with farmer Simeon (André Dussollier). All of them have reason to stop and take stock of the news.

Resnais was always fascinated by the complex relationship between past and present, and how regrets can burden the possibilities of the future. Life of Riley by its very nature is concerned with impending death, a setting in order of affairs and the acknowledgment that you need to savour and enjoy the moment. Wise, witty and surprisingly poignant, this is a most elegant swansong.

Selected release from Fri 6 Mar.

Life of Riley | Official Trailer

Life of Riley (Aimer, boire et chanter)

  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • France
  • 1h 48min
  • Directed by: Alain Resnais
  • Cast: Sabine Azéma, Hippolyte Girardot, Caroline Sihol

Three couples in rural England learn that their mutual friend George Riley has terminal cancer. Resnais' final film, an adaptation of the play by Alan Ayckbourn, is blatantly stagey but the performances have tender conviction, and Resnais' playful, experimental approach makes for a wise, witty and elegant swansong.