Alain Resnais, France 2014
French director Resnais has adapted a 2010 play by Alan Ackbourne for the cinema. Here three couples discuss their friend George Riley who supposedly is dying of a fatal disease. The rumor starts when Riley’s friend and general practitioner tells his wife Kathryn that Riley’s days might be numbered. He didn’t know that his wife’s first boyfriend had actually been George. They both confide in friends: Tamara, Simeon, Jack and Monica. All of them have had some kind of relationship or friendship with George in the past. The film changes from one of their residencies to the next: a terrace, a garden, another garden. It even shows us Tamara, Monica, and Kathryn working in poor George’s garden, in an effort to help, or better yet, to eavesdrop on George’s activities. Strangely, he is never home. In fact, he never shows up once. All we know is hearsay.
The story is perhaps interesting, but somehow does not seem original. It definitely would be better on stage, as was originally intended. Here, Resnais has decided on something between film and stage. The actors are “real” but the setting is more like a stage; each scene might take place in a garden, but the background is all fake flowers and trees, one dimensional, a stage-setting on film. Nothing comes to life, except perhaps George, who is “almost dead” and whom we never see. He is definitely much more fun than any of these six people.
Still the film won the Alfred Bauer Prize for opening new perspectives. In my Berlinale showing some people left before the film ended. In the French press the opinions of 24 different press reporters rated it with stars from five to one, with Le Monde giving it five and Studio Ciné Live only two. The unfortunate title Life of Riley is not the fault of Resnais, but Ackbourne who didn’t seem to care that it was already the title of a long-running U.S. radio series. Now it is also the title of a documentary film about the life of BB King. Reanais was unable to accept the prize personally. Just 17 days after the award ceremony, he died on March 1, shortly before his 92nd birthday. This was his third prize from the Berlinale. In his long life-time of film-making he had received many other prizes, including from the Cannes and the Venice film festivals.