Life Is a Bed of Roses (1983)

Resnais’ tonally-jarring ‘musical-drama’ that intercuts across three timelines feels too artificially-constructed and incoherent to make any meaningful sense.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Dir. Alain Resnais
1983 | France | Drama/Comedy/Musical | 110 mins | 1.66:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be PG13 for some thematic issues and sexual references

Cast: Vittorio Gassman, Ruggero Raimondi, Geraldine Chaplin, Fanny Ardant, Sabine Azéma
Plot: Count Michel Forbek builds a castle where to fabricate a utopian society. Years later, as part of a conference, trysts take precedence over education. Finally, a group of children create a fantastical story about medieval times.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Fresh from one of his career’s high points in My American Uncle (1980), Alain Resnais’ follow-up was surely disappointing to say the least.  Instead of intercutting among three pivotal characters in the previous film, here he cut across three timelines. 

One centers on a Count who builds a castle to achieve his grand aim of a utopian society by ‘purifying’ his rich and powerful friends who are turned into objects of blissful, eternal happiness. 

Another set in a more contemporary time revolves around an idyllic education conference (held in that same castle), where educators and experts debate over pedagogy and personal practice—but seem to be more interested in engaging in trysts with each other. 

Lastly, a group is seen acting out a play about medieval times in that same setting.  This ‘play’ segment of the narrative doesn’t work for me at all; in fact, I think it is utterly redundant and tonally-jarring. 

The other two timelines function adequately by themselves and are minimally interesting in their thematic preoccupations, though they don’t quite speak to each other meaningfully.  Ultimately, I’m not sure what Resnais’ wanted to say through this quaint film. 

Some of the sets feel too artificially-constructed, or that there is no real sense of space and time—in other words, I feel Life is a Bed of Roses is too performative, as if there is something to assert about the folly of mankind through gestures, manipulation, artifice, or in what feels like a fascinating if ultimately hollow use of a gimmick—characters breaking out into songs, or humming harmoniously in agreement. 

Some have called Resnais’ work exuberant or imaginative (which is no doubt true), but it is hard to say that it is ever coherent. 

Grade: C+


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