Masters Of Cinema #115 - Life Of Riley (Aimer, Boire et Chanter) - Blu-ray Review

'Never feels exceptional enough to be worthy of its inclusion amongst the cinematic milestones that the Masters Of Cinema series now houses'.

In the accompanying booklet that comes with Masters Of Cinema's release of Life Of Riley (one of the series' occasional excursions into contemporary film), much is made of one small element of director Alain Resnais' adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn's 2010 play. That element is an animatronic mole that appears briefly only twice in the film's 108 minute running time. Cristina Álvarez López, author of the booklet, will have you believe that this unexpected visitor from underground is loaded with symbolism, even representative of the eponymous Riley - first name George - who is perpetually absent from the screen. Perhaps it is. López describes these moments as "outrageous and exhilarating", two words which admittedly did not cross my mind when the mole appeared. Two thoughts did enter my head at these points however: the first was the gopher Bill Murray contends with in Caddyshack, which in part led onto the second - just what is this subterranean non sequitur actually doing here?

It's this difficulty in fitting together all the parts of Life Of Riley that ultimately make Resnais' film somewhat tricky to engage with. This is an abstract cinematic interpretation of Ayckbourn's play, one which does not go in for strict realism but embraces its theatrical roots. The action plays out in settings strongly reminiscent of a stage with stylised backdrops and minimal props and furniture, something which initially takes some getting used to but in fact works well once you have settled into Resnais' play-like aesthetic. But there are also elements which could not be achieved in a theatre, such as the aforementioned mole, and Resnais' choice to every so often frame his characters as talking heads in front of a crosshatched background. The latter of these two choices works better than the former, but when taken as a whole Life Of Riley is generally at its best when at its most theatrical.

As a comedy-drama, Resnais' French language adaptation of Ayckbourn's English play (still set in Yorkshire, however - another of those incongruous choices the director adds into the mix) is satisfying enough, if never outstanding. The comedy is subtle, aspiring to be mildly amusing rather than side-splittingly funny; whilst the drama lacks the gravity to make Life Of Riley's plot, concerned with a trio of married couples who all know Riley in different capacities, feel much more than ordinary. It's a feeling perpetuated by the stripped down choices such as the synthesised orchestral soundtrack which, unlike the abstract theatricality, at times give Resnais' film a disappointing amateurish quality. Although it is engagingly performed by a troupe of talented veteran French actors and certainly contains some stylish touches throughout, Life Of Riley never feels exceptional enough to be worthy of its inclusion amongst the cinematic milestones that the Masters Of Cinema series now houses.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Life Of Riley is released in the UK on Monday 25th May 2015

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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