Those who enjoy Mike Leigh’s intelligent and bitter-sweet dissections of humanity will enjoy Life of Riley, the last film made by the famed French “New Wave” film maker Alain Resnais, who died suddenly on 1 March this year, aged 91. In a career spanning more than 60 years and nearly 50 films the highly-rated works he left – and some were too irritatingly ambiguous for some tastes – include Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) in which archive footage of the horrors of the bomb is juxtaposed with scenes of a French film star enjoying the caresses of her Japanese lover, while recalling a previous affair with a German lover, and Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955), a painful but poetic and utterly memorable 30-minute documentary about Auschwitz. Later films celebrated the similarities between film and theatre, as did his last.
Not to be confused with The Life of Riley 2002 biopic of American blues singer Riley. B. King (B.B.King) Life of Riley is a theatrical, knowing and involving comedy-drama about six people affected by the terminal prognosis given to their much-loved friend George Riley, who we never see. However, through the dialogue the character of George emerges and it becomes clear that far from needing his friend’s help to enrich his last days he is very capable of helping himself, particularly where the womenfolk are concerned as he enjoys liaisons with his male friend’s wives, and in one case of a male friend with a mistress, his 16 year-old daughter too. The much-loved Georgie-boy, it might be safely concluded, is a steward in a bar, as it were.
Life of Riley is based on a play by Sir Alan Ayckbourn, filmed in French with the highly-talented actors Resnais worked with for many of his later films, including Sabine Azema, Andre Dussollier and Hippolyte Giradot. It is set in Yorkshire and repays more than one viewing, if all the subtle nuances are to be enjoyed.. It was released in a Dual-Format Blu-ray and DVD on May 25 this year by Eureka Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema series, and includes interviews with critic Geoffrey O’Brien, and the cast, as well as a 32-page booklet featuring new material from critic Cristina Alvarez Lopez and Sir Alan Ayckbourn.
Note for film trivia buffs. One of the writers of Life of Riley is shown in the film as “Alax Reval” This was a pseudonym used by Resnais in several of his later works, where he had participated in the writing but didn’t want his name to appear twice in the credits.