Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
Original title: La vie est un roman
, . , , , , . Screenplay by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by Enki Bilal, . Film Editing by , .
You might have trouble putting together the pieces of Alain Resnais’s experimental fantasy, but you won’t mind seeing it through. A mansion built to look like the castle in a fairy tale is the setting of three tales in three periods, the first beginning when an early twentieth-century gentleman announces to his friends that he is beginning work on his dream house before the onset the first World War puts his plans on hold. Years later the completed home’s interiors are what look like a Turkish bath laid out in a maze, and he has invited all his closest friends and offered them the chance to be reborn in the utopia he will create (via a mind-control serum). Decades later in contemporary times, the house is now the site of an alternative school where a number of educators from around France have gathered to discuss the possibilities of improving education for the country’s children; most of their time is spent engendering melodramatic love affairs ashas taken a shine to and nosy keeps getting involved in their interactions. The third narrative, whose scenes act more like breakaway bookends to the other time periods, is a medieval fantasy set in the same building that is the result of the teachers’ children letting their imaginations run wild. Resnais is probably saying something about the fragility of human beings, always trying to accomplish the creation of ideal societies while stoking the fires of passion that are our constant undoing, but the message doesn’t land; if the film’s actual narrative structure were more solid or, conversely, if the level of experimentation was at a more intense level, one would compensate for the other, but the result is something that is hinting at a style and a substance and never quite reaches the ultimate possibility of either. That said, it’s too easy to watch for one to feel cheated by the experience, and wandering through this great director’s imagination has never been anything worth regretting.