Life of Riley

Alain Resnais died just a few weeks after this final work premiered at the Berlin film festival in February 2014; the theme, fittingly enough, is preparing for death, but the execution is breezy and good-humored. The farcical story has six characters bending over backwards to accommodate a terminally ill friend, which sets off rivalries between them; the twist is that the viewer never sees or hears the friend—familiar yet unknowable, he becomes a metaphor for death itself. Resnais based this on a 2010 Alan Ayckbourn play, and like the director’s earlier Ayckbourn adaptations Smoking and No Smoking (1993), it’s designed like a Sunday comic strip, with cartoonish colors and blatantly flat settings that draw attention to the knowing plot contrivances. As in all of Resnais’s theatrical adaptations, the performances are warm and naturalistic, countering the artificiality of the stage conventions and illuminating the universal struggle to create personal meaning in lives bound by social convention. In French with subtitles.