A complicated story of idealism, human fallacy, and the power of imagination Alain Resnais' La Vie Est un Roman a.k.a Life is a Bed of Roses (1983) asks questions for which answers aren't easy to find. Through parody and "civilized" snobbism the French director also critiques the foundations of modern intellectualism, those who thrive on it.
Life is a Bed of Roses is built upon three different stories, each feeding off comic eccentricity employing curious musical acts. The three stories also overlap eventually providing a point of view that relates them.
The first story is set in the beginning of the century in the Ardennes where Count Michel Forbeck (Ruggero Raimondi) is on the verge of materializing a life-long dream: a picturesque city of peace and harmony. With war placing the Count's plans on halt the city is abandoned. Eventually those who were meant to live in it are provided with a Chinese drug that would make rebirth possible. But the Count's ex-lover (Fanny Ardant) rejects the drug.
The second story takes place in present days. A group of educators is gathered for a conference in Count Forbeck's castle where they discuss and argue the merits of intellectual harmony. Eventually, the two sexes are faced with less than intellectual romantic dilemmas that would overshadow the conference and its agenda.
The third story is set in a Wagnerian mythic world where gnomes and other fantasy creatures come to life.
Asking the audience to deconstruct the message of each story by promoting speculation Life is a Bed of Roses is most easily characterized as an attempt in concept cinema. The notion of continuity and character development are practically non-existent here - the main protagonists repeatedly burst into vocal tirades only to be unceremoniously interrupted by conventional dialog.
The majority of their actions are illogical. Images and sounds are stylistically important but secondary to Resnais' concept storytelling. The intent here is to emphasize creativity rather than justify it with a "meaningful" script. As a result often times the motives behind the main protagonists' decisions are difficult to grasp.
In the grand scheme of things Life is a Bed of Roses is difficult to critique as the film itself is nothing more than a stylized renunciation of the themes comprising its subject matter. As such the manner in which it is all put together is arguably the film's strongest point, though some may rightfully conclude it is also its weakest least attractive feature.
How Does the DVD Look?
I have a pretty good idea what has happened here! KINO have replicated the exact same transfer found on the (English-friendly) MK2 produced boxset of Resnais films. Unfortunately, this is once again an improperly converted PAL-NTSC transfer with somewhat less than obvious "ghosting" patterns. On the positive side the anamorphically enhanced 1.66:1 print looks rather strong: colors are lush and vivid, contrast above average, and damage practically non-existent. The only area of concern here is macro-blocking which is noticeably in selected scenes. Still, if you can get pass the improper conversion the rest could be considered an acceptable substitute of the now very expensive French import.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a French DD track and optional white English subtitles the film sounds good. Dialog and music appear to be handled quite well and I did not detect any dropouts/hissings. A suggested above the audio treatment, as expected, is virtually an exact copy of the sound mix found on the French disc.
Aside from the original theatrical trailer the only other extra found on this disc is a conversation-documentary with Alain Resnais where he addresses the various fragments of his story. Interesting parallels are drawn between the French director's more successful works (Last Year at Marienbad), their stylistic presentation, their message, and the work subject of this review.
Eccentric, imaginative, and poised to frustrate those accustomed to linear storytelling Life is a Bed of Roses is a curious work of creativity. The story is practically impossible to categorize, it is too unconventional and free-flowing. For those willing to go Resnais' route however there might be some pleasant surprises along the way. Or, not!