By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2014--LIFE OF RILEY  Send This Review to a Friend

The ever-creative late French director Alain Resnais and witty British playwright Alan Ayckbourn are perfectly paired in “Life of Riley,” which Resnais adapted with Laurent Herbiet from the Ayckbourn play, “Relatively Speaking, Life of Riley.” The film, shown at the 2014 New York Film Festival, was Resnais’s last work, finished shortly before he died at the age of 91, and it is a very impressive way to leave. The film--the French title is “Aimer, boire et chanter”--glistens with a superb cast of some of France’s finest actors. It is a delight for those who appreciate sophisticated comedy-drama.

A doctor, Colin, played by Hippolyte Girardot, mentions to his wife, Kathryn, engagingly acted by Sabine Azéma, that a patient and friend has only about six months to live as a result of fatal cancer. She worms out enough information to realize it is a close friend named George Riley, and spreads the news. Jack (Michel Vuillermor), who considers George his closest friend, is shaken by the fatal prediction. Jack’s wife is played by Caroline Silhol.

The third couple in the mix is Monica, George’s estranged wife, played with bewildered complexity by Sandrine Kiberlain, now living with a retired farmer, Simeon (André Dussollier).

We never do meet George, but in the course of meeting the others, we learn a lot about George, those who knew him and his relations with the women in the picture. This George, it turns out, is quite a guy.

The screenplay bristles with witty remarks and situations, and the cast members are all at the top of their game, as is Renais’s direction. Assorted surprises occur along the way even though we may have our advance suspicions.

What’s more, while Resnais works from the wisdom of age, his style has a youthful esprit. Instead of elaborate sets, there are English countryside exteriors, where the film is set, with the action then zooming toward amusing drawings of particular locations, which turn into simple interiors or outdoor segments. The style adds to the jaunty look of the film and underscores its moods.

Nearly all of the characters whom we meet are in the process of rehearsing a play for local community theater, with their egos on display as the personal is mixed with the theatrical. Step by step George figures into their lives, including that of one couple’s spoiled daughter, Tilly (Alba Gaïa Kraghede Bellugi), given a lavish party celebrating her 16th birthday.

Meanwhile, as we get to laugh at all of the complications, enough suspense is built up as to whether George will die on schedule as predicted. By the time “Life of Riley” is over, there is the satisfaction of having seen an engaging French film and an example of why Alain Resnais achieved such heights and why his leaving us after a long, productive life is such a great loss. A Kino Lorber release. Reviewed September 28, 2014.


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