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André Dussollier

Videophiled: Alain Resnais’ ‘Life of Riley’

LifeofRileyLife of Riley (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD) – It is curious that Alain Resnais, who was the most narratively experimental and ambitious of directors at the birth of the nouvelle vague in France, spent the last two decade of his filmmaking career melding cinema and theater in productions that are both highly theatrical and uniquely cinematic. Life of Riley, the final film from the director (he passed away in 2014, a few months after the film’s debut), is his third adaptation of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn and, like his penultimate feature You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (2012), revolves around the theater. In this case it’s an amateur production, a play within a play that we only get in glimpses of rehearsals interrupted by disagreements and digressions. The biggest digression is their friend George Riley, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He never appears on screen but his presence looms over the film and his actions stir the drama between the three couples of the story: suburbanites Kathryn and Colin (Sabine Azéma and Hippolyte Girardot), wealthy friends Tamara and Jack (Caroline Sihol and Michel Vuillermoz), and George’s ex-wife Monica (Sandrine Kiberlain) now living on a farm with the older Simeon (André Dussollier).

“Drama” may not be the right word. The play itself is a pleasant frivolity, a mix of bedroom farce (without the bedrooms), romantic comedy, and self-aware theater that opens on the first day of rehearsals and ends after closing night, with a coda that brings us back to the themes of mortality and emotional connection. Resnais was 90 when he made the film and it is surely no coincidence that his final two features raise a glass to life by facing death and mortality.

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Review: ‘And Now My Love’

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, July 1975]

The first splotch of color in Claude Lelouch’s And Now My Love occurs somewhere around the end of World War Two. It is not simply a matter of suddenly switching to color stock and letting the cameras roll; instead, the scene is calculated as an eye-catching gesture that begins by looking at a military parade out in a street and then pulling back into a room where two of the characters are making love—a room with a remarkably blue wall and some very conscious lighting effects that nudge us towards an awareness of the scene’s stylized appearance. It’s perhaps the most subtle instance of life and movie intermingling in the film, and it’s so nice because it uses the medium of filmmaking to illustrate the transparent regions of style and artificiality wherein movies must become about themselves as well as about the various and sundry people and events that go to make up the story we’re watching. As for the more explicitly self-inspecting aspects of movies-in-movies, and of And Now My Love—well, cameras staring at cameras seem to hold some fascination for even the most casually infected cinemagoer.

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Review: It’s Raining in Santiago

[Originally published in Movietone News 55, September 1977]

A Franco-Bulgarian coproduction with Bulgaria standing in for Chilean locations, It’s Raining in Santiago seeks to reenact key events in the September 11, 1973, overthrow of the Allende regime, at the same time filling in crucial background from the time of Allende’s election as president several years before and, finally, taking a few glimpses at post-Allende Chile. Helvio Soto’s primary model is conspicuously, and understandably, Costa-Gavras. Like Costa-Gavras, Soto does not shrink from exploiting the turn-on value of high-octane melodramatic narrative in the interest of leftwing point-making. Like him, too, he keeps his camera, his cast, or both in motion as much as possible, knowing that at some primal, Panofskyan level this is satisfying to the moviewatcher who might otherwise be indisposed to sit still for either detailed exposition or political editorializing. His correct-minded good guys—notably Laurent Terzieff as a French correspondent, Ricardo Cucciolla (Vanzetti of Sacco and) as a Chilean newscaster turned presidential adviser, Maurice Garrel (the gaunt guerrilla veteran of Chabrol’s Nada) as a proletarian Allende man, and Jean-Louis Trintignant as a socialist senator—are uncomplicatedly swell, sensitive, family-, friend- and music-loving folks; the leftist students have long hair but are clearly very well-washed; the militarist/bourgeois/corporate bad guys display not a glimmer of wit, originality, or subtlety (let alone the troublingly appealing ambiguity of Yves Montand’s pig-in-the-terrorist-poke in State of Siege, or even Marcel Bozzuffi’s dopey enthusiasm as the homosexual hitman in Z). Hence, even as “a John Wayne entertainment for the Left” (Costa-Gavras’ phrase), It’s Raining in Santiago soon begins to pall.

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