Actors: Fanny Ardant, Ruggero Raimondi, Sabine Azema
Director: Alain Resnais
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, NTSC, Surround Sound, Widescreen
Region: Region A/1
Number of discs: 2
Studio: Cohen Media Group
Release Date: July 21, 2015
Run Time: 192 minutes
This double-feature contains a comedy and a drama that couldn’t be more different in terms of plot and tone, but both are tinged with a similar fantastical style from French filmmaker Alain Resnais. While neither reaches the frustrating ambiguity of a film like Last Year at Marienbad or the weightiness of his wartime films, both have the uncanny sense of experimentation running through them, stylistically as well as within the narrative structure. One never knows where Resnais is headed, however familiar his films feel in their approach.
The first in this double feature is Life is a Bed of Roses (1983), a lighthearted exploration of imagination and childlike wonder. The story is told through three separate narratives, each loosely connected by themes and the common setting of a castle built in the
Ardennes forest. On the eve of the First World War, a
wealthy man named Count Forbek (Ruggero Raimondi) decides to start building a
palace which is to be a haven for his friends. Attempting to create a utopian
society for a select few to start fresh after the destruction of the war, Forbek
drugs and brainwashes the participants into believing they are entering infancy
again. They are pampered with pleasant sounds and smells while other senses are
restricted, with the intention of cleansing them of their previous lives. Among
these guests are Forbek’s former fiancée (Fanny Ardant) and the man she married
Simultaneously in the plot is a storyline taking place in present day at the same castle, which is being used as the setting for an educational conference. Though there is much weighty discussion over teaching methods, many of those attending seem more interesting in the romantic entanglements provided by the meeting of minds. An American woman named Nora Winkle (Geraldine Chaplin) bets her friend Claudine (Martine Kelly) that the innocent public school teacher Elisabeth Rousseau (Sabine Azéma) will be seduced by the single father (Pierre Arditi) that Claudine is sleeping with rather than the principal speaker (Vittorio Gassman), who often finds his way into Nora’s bed. Meanwhile there is a third narrative taking place completely in the imagination of the children that Claudine is tasked to watch, involving a group of prisoners who must be freed from the confines of the magical castle.
While Love Unto Death lacks the direct fantasy elements of Life is a Bed of Roses, it is also unwilling to commit entirely to the realism of the world. This is clear from the opening scene, when lovers Elisabeth (Sabine Azéma) and Simon (Pierre Arditi) are nearly torn apart by death. Simon is pronounced dead by a doctor after collapsing suddenly, but then he is inexplicably resurrected. Elisabeth and Simon wrestle with the meaning of this second chance at life and love, debating it with their close friends and clerics, Jérôme (André Dussollier) and Judith (Fanny Ardant).
At first Simon embraces this second chance at life, living each moment to the fullest, but it leads to paranoia and fear as his health begins to deteriorate again. Elisabeth struggles to connect with these feelings, promising to follow Simon in death if he passes suddenly again. This results in a series of religious debates with Jérôme and Judith, who are among the few privy to the miraculous event. Even when the narrative has a relatively simple approach, Resnais provides his unique touch in the passage of time and film editing. Each brief sequence showing the shift from love and joy to fear and paranoia is inter-cut with eerie sequences of a blank screen and what looks to be snow falling, layered with an emotive score by Hans Werner Henze.
Each of the films has its own Blu-ray disc, along with a feature-length commentary track with critics Wade Major and Andy Klein. The special features also include a 2014 theatrical re-release trailer.
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance: 7/10