On the eve of the First World War, a wealthy count, Forbek, builds a rocco pleasure dome in the French countryside. He invites his wife and his friends to live a life of idyllic seclusion inside the dome. In 1982, the same dome is the venue for a teaching seminar attended by a number of teachers with some radical ideas for educating children. Both Forbek and the seminar’s organisers are striving for similar things, the creation of a better world. Both are doomed to failure…
taken from here
REVIEW from frenchfilms.topcities.com
The relationship between times past and present is a recurrent theme in Alain Resnais’ cinema. Whereas his earlier films adopt an abstract, often bewildering, approach, his later films, and La Vie est un roman is a prime example of this, opt for the more direct path. In this particular film, past and present are represented by two completely separate story strands. Yet they overlap and have so much in common (the location, the quest for Utopia) that we feel we are watching the same story from two different perspectives. There is also a third story, less developed, involving some medieval dungeons and dragons type characters – utterly perplexing but strangely adding to the structure of the film.
Such a film could only be possible if it were created by a great director who had the services of an equally talented photography director. This film has both, and that is quite evident from the first five minutes of the film. Nuttyen’s camera work is not just impressive – it is sumptuous and captivating. It is often remarked that one of the distinguishing features of Resnais’ films is that the audience is spellbound from start to finish – once their attention has been grabbed, it isn’t released until the “Fin” caption comes up. Whilst La Vie est un roman is not in the league of some of Resnais’ earlier works, such as L’Année dernière à Marienbad, it is nonetheless a stunningly filmed piece of cinema.
The presence of such a strong cast is almost incidental, but the film is certainly enhanced by such actors as Ruggero Raimondi as the dangerously obsessed Count Forbek and Fanny Ardant as his cheating wife. The final scenes between these two actors are so charged that you feel anything could happen – and it does.
The icing on the cake has to be the eerie music which accompanies the film from start to finish. It is really very unsettling to have such music, which would seem to have been composed for a gory thriller, being played against scenes which appear mildly comic. Resnais seems to be reminding us that beneath the surface there lurks something quite unpleasant. The message is reinforced by the constant jaunts from 1982 back to the 1910s, in a strange and disturbing mélange of light comedy with gothic horror. The errors of the past manage to create a resonance in the present – a typically Resnais-esque notion of time and memory.
REVIEW from All Movie Guide
With La Vie est un Roman, filmmaker Alain Resnais wanted to create a lighthearted tribute to three important French directors, each of whom defined a particular era in his country’s cinema Melies (the first French filmmaker to use narrative–his most famous film is A Trip to the Moon), the impressionist L’Herbier (most famous for his inspirational avant garde work during the ’20s) and Rohmer (most famed for his sextet of “Moral Tales” during the ’60s). To present his chronicle of the human quest for a utopia of personal happiness and fulfillment, Resnais created two distinct narratives representing the past and present, and then interspliced them with a third more fantastical tale to provide contrast. Representing the past, the first tale centers on a monied eccentric who creates a “temple of happiness’ in his chateau. There, guests are given a special potion, laid inside enormous cribs and surrounded by pleasant sensations to help them return to the blissful state of infancy. The second story takes place in the same chateau where a symposium on the techniques and philosophies of the eccentric are hotly debated and elaborated upon. Weaving its way between the two tales is the third, which represents the medieval fantasies of children in a forest who imagine the struggle between a wicked king and a brave good-hearted warrior.