Resnais’s swan song

Last Updated: April 16, 2014By Tags: , ,

Alain Resnais, master of irony and, in his last decades, of whimsical comedy, would have appreciated the fact that his latest oeuvre, “Aimer, Boire, Chanter,” opened in Paris on March 26, not even a month after he himself took his final bow at age 91, on March 1st (see our OBITUARY)

The romp, set in the English countryside and based on an Alan Ayckbourn play, “Life of Riley” never introduces us to the main character, George, who, after having charmed his way through life, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Instead, we discover him through six other characters—former and would-be lovers including the wives of his best friend, said friends, and the new companion of his soon-to-be his own former wife. The six, played by Resnais stalwarts including his wife Sabine Azéma, gradually discover a past history of cheating as well as possible plans for a last getaway by George and one or the other or all of the women in his life.

Critics speculate that George is a stand-in for Resnais himself, drinking life as happily as he would the bubbly in a champagne flute, giving relations and loves the fleeting attention they deserve and perhaps in a last elegant gesture, releasing all from guilt, betrayal, and past history. The director, at the beginning of his career the almost metaphysical author of arcane films such as “Hiroshima, my Love” (1959) and “Last Year in Marienbad” (1961) that helped launch the revolutionary French New Wave gradually moved toward a more and more amused observation of life, reaching a peak with the twin films “Smoking/No Smoking,” based on another Alan Ayckbourn play.

The bright colors in “Aimer, Boire, Chanter,” the illustrations at the beginning of each scene that turn into cheerful country homes embellished by a profusion of flowers in every nook and cranny and orderly flower-bed add to the overall pleasantness. As do the comedians that show pain and anguish for the briefest moment before moving on to the next happy event or renewed declarations of love or acknowledgment of decades-long friendship. As Resnais himself said with the title of a 1997 film, “It’s the Same Old Song” anyway. No tragedy then, as long as people who loved you stand by your grave and wish you bon voyage.