Love Unto Death / Life Is A Bed Of Roses

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday July 21, 2015

Love Unto Death / Life Is A Bed Of Roses

Love - romantic love in all its crazy, messy, dangerous, and irrational glory -- is the subject director Alain Resnais celebrates and excoriates in equal measure in this double feature Blu-ray release for Cohen Media.

Though billed first, "Love Unto Death" ("L'amour mort") was released in 1984, a year after "Life is a Bed of Roses." Two couples -- Elisabeth (Sabine Azma) and Simon (Pierre Arditi) are one pairing, Jrme (Andr Dussollier) and Judith (Fanny Ardant) the other -- come face to face with mortality, and the existential anxieties and ethical dilemmas surrounding it, when Simon seemingly dies for a few minutes and then recovers. The film circles the subject of life's end and peers at what dying means through a variety of lenses, among them religion, practicality, and personal choice. Elisabeth, despite having known Simon for only a short time, asserts that she cannot live without him, so if he relapses into death -- more permanently this time -- she is convinced she will want to commit suicide in the name of love. Her view is the film's default for a main thesis, since the film is built around here point of view. The film is broken up into short segments that are separated by serene visuals of drifting feathers (or maybe they are meant to be snowflakes?). The feathers swarm, drift down thick as a blizzard, or thin out and disappear leaving only blackness: Is Resnais showing us Elisabeth's emotional temperature?

In "Life Is A Bed of Roses" ("La vie est un roman"; a more literal, and more fitting, translation would be "Life Is A Novel"), from 1983, the same crew of actors are present and accounted for, along with a host of others, including Geraldine Chaplin, Ruggero Raimondi, and Vittorio Gassman. The movie needs a large cast: It unfurls across two time periods and also takes place in a fantasy world that exits in the minds of a group of children.

The earlier time period is around 1920, when a nobleman, Count Michel Forbek (Raimondi), having constructed only one edifice from a planned compound of fantastical architectural works, sets about refining the interior life of the building inhabitants. He seeks to re-create society by literally re-birthing humanity, one at a time if need be. Peace, plenty, and pleasure will prevail in the new world Forbek envisions. But people being people, there's a fly or two in the ointment: Forbek is still in love with Livia (Ardant), who has married another man, Raoul (Dusollier). Can a pure, high-minded Utopia be hatched amid sexual obsession and jealousy? Are human beings doomed to remain creatures of lust, passion, and selfish desires? Should we even try to be anything different?

Sixty-some years later, another group of reform-minded people have taken over the building, which has become an alternative school. Much the same idea is in force here: That humanity will be re-formed and liberated. The technique here, though is generational, and the focus is the children who attend the school. At the moment, however, the building serves as the site for a conference where some of the world's foremost thinkers gather -- among them architect Walter Guarini (Gassman), anthropologist Nora Winkle (Chaplin), seriously clownish academic Robert Dufresne (Arditi), and the romantically-minded lisabeth Rousseau (Azma, once again the voice of the sappy sentimentalist).

Issues that were approached with a more or less straight face in "Love Unto Death" are, in this case, treated with a giddy contempt as Resnais erratically dips into a completely different format: That of the musical. Not only do characters burst into song (accompanied by invisible orchestras), but the lyrics they sing are an astonishing mix of fluttery lyricism and bracing profanity. As far as vision and world transformation goes, however, all of that seems destined from the get-go to fall far short, as the men indulge in frat-boy talk and the women scheme about setting their friends up in romantic liaisons.

The children of the conference's attendees, meantime, are preoccupied with their own revolution -- an epic in which a heroic, dispossessed prince mounts an insurrection against a despotic pretender to the throne. But once the tyrant is slain, what's to be done but start the game all over again? In the end you are left to wonder whether love and war are not merely different manifestations of the same thing -- and whether adults really are children grown up into maturity, or just children grown to a larger size.

Each of the films in this double feature is allotted its own disc. Each film comes with a trailers for its respective theatrical re-releases last year, as well as commentary by film scholars Andy Klein and Wade Major.

"Love Unto Death / Life Is A Bed of Roses"



Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.