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  Life is a Bed of Roses Playtime
Year: 1983
Director: Alain Resnais
Stars: Vittorio Gassman, Ruggero Raimondi, Geraldine Chaplin, Fanny Ardant, Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azéma, Robert Manuel, Martine Kelly, Samson Fainsilber, Véronique Silver, André Dussollier, Guillaume Boisseau, Sabine Thomas, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu
Genre: Musical, Comedy, Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Back in January 1914, in a rural area of France, a wealthy visionary, Count Michel Forbek (Vittorio Gassman), assembled his friends and told them about his latest big idea to build a castle complex there, and to this effect he unveiled an elaborate model of his plans. However, with global events conspiring against him, the Count found that his new home would be delayed thanks to the First World War, and in effect the building would never be completed to his satisfaction - but part of it was put up, and he was satisfied enough with it to move in and commence the second stage of his schemes. Around seventy years later, the place was being used as a school, and a conference was called...

Here's a film from Alain Resnais that divides people, as quite a lot of his works do, but depending on who you talk to this is either enormously pretentious and utterly unclear about its own subject matter, or it's actually very profound and says a lot on mankind's urge to improve itself. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle, as while you're rarely left thinking that Resnais and his screenwriter Jean Gruault had lost sight of what it was they were aiming for, it was plain to see that they had cast their net a little too wide in developing their themes and finding examples to back up their beliefs, which mainly featured a deep mistrust of teachers.

So it is those characters in the second story who get the most flak, as they are depicted as not knowing as much as they think they do, with this big old thing we call life far too sprawling for anyone to make complete sense of. What the adult characters want is some kind of control, with the teachers' need to hold sway over the children contrasted with the Count from all those decades before trying to "re-educate" his friends, an activity which involves some kind of strange psychological alchemy, with the help of a mysterious narcotic. At first glance these two plotlines don't meld too well, but give them time and a little patience from the viewer and you begin to see the parallels.

Naturally, the older narrative has a more fairy tale quality than the modern one, which suits the contradicting message we are offered by the end, that life is both a fairy tale and not a fairy tale; this doesn't mean that Resnais and Gruault had fumbled what they were trying to convey, it's simply that they cannot come up with a pat answer to their problems by summing them up in some corny phrase. And yet, both these stories lapse into what can best be described as musical numbers, with the cast breaking out into song at infrequent intervals, either for a word or two or for whole songs, with the styles ranging from stuff that sounds like advertising jingles to opera to even a none-too-satisfying go at rock.

Quite the reason for having the tunes in it are obscure, but then so it a lot of what we are shown here, yet for all the complaints, Life is a Bed of Roses never feels too much like a chore if you give the filmmakers a chance. The actors help to some extent, with some menacing, some playful, and others emotional, and it's engaging to see what appears to be the gears in some elaborate, intricate machine working away, via the medium of these characters interacting. The Count drugs and manipulates his guests in the castle to make them born again, all the better to mould them in his image of an ideal world, as the teachers try and fail to see eye to eye about how best to shape the next generation; this is of the opinion that the next generation will shape itself whatever happens. But really this is one of those films that can bring out different takes on what it is about based on who you are, rather than who you discuss it with. Music by M. Philippe Gérard.

Aka: La vie est un roman
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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