Life of Riley (Aimer, boire et chanter) – Film Review

life of rileyThere’s something odd about watching a film that you know is set in the rolling hills of Yorkshire, but hearing French. In fact it’s surreal. But then this whole film (directed by Alain Resnais) is surreal, with virtual reality style shots mixed with cartoon drawings and a bizarre stage-like setting for each scene. And a mole. I still don’t really understand the mole.

It’s beyond bizarre.

Yet somehow, it works. Although the subtitles on the screen are – as far as I can tell – the words of Alan Ayckbourn’s original play, the translation is far from literal. Although Aimer, boire et chanter is a French idiom that can be translated as Life of Riley, if one were to translate it literally, the result would be loving, drinking and singing.

Singing aside, that’s sort of what the film is about. Three couples are getting on with their fairly mundane lives, when all of a sudden they are forced to face up to their problems because a close friend of theirs has only a few months to live. We never meet George Riley, but the plot revolves around him. His best friend is having an affair, his ex-wife is living with an older man and his first girlfriend is married to a man who collects clocks.

Each of the women is drawn to George and it threatens to ruin their existing relationships, yet at George’s funeral we see that each couple has become stronger through their mutual respect for him.

The actors each embrace their role, mixing emotion and comedy to create a piece that is sad yet funny. Sabine Azéma and Hippolyte Girardot stand out as Kathryn and Colin, a couple who seem to have lost their way, while Caroline Silhol is haughty but warm as Tamara.

The film’s strongest and weakest point is the language. The humour is English and a lot of the subtle British wit is lost in translation. In fact the play is so bloody English that it just doesn’t work in French and yet hearing the French translation for “bollocks and bloody buggery” is hilarious.

But it is the fantastically comical music (by Mark Snow) and cinematography that make the film what it is and the odd, simplistic stage sets (designed by Jacques Saulnier) give the film a unique aspect. It’s oddly brilliant and at times mesmerising.

So although Life of Riley is an interesting adaptation, it’s just a little bit too bizarre for me and given the choice I’d rather watch the original play.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes

Life of Riley is released at selected cinemas in the UK and Ireland on 6 March 2015.