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Life Is a Bed of Roses (1983)
"La vie est un roman" (original title)

PG  |   |  Drama, Comedy, Musical  |  20 April 1983 (France)
6.7
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Ratings: 6.7/10 from 601 users  
Reviews: 9 user | 14 critic

Three intertwined tales. On the eve of the First World War, Count Forbek starts to build a fantastic castle in the Ardennes forest. After the war he uses it to start a utopian society by ... See full summary »

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Title: Life Is a Bed of Roses (1983)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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...
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Robert Dufresne
...
Élisabeth Rousseau
Robert Manuel ...
Georges Leroux
Martine Kelly ...
Claudine Obertin
Samson Fainsilber ...
Zoltán Forbek
Véronique Silver ...
Nathalie Holberg
...
Guillaume Boisseau ...
Frédéric
Sabine Thomas ...
Marie
Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu ...
School Teacher
Rodolphe Schacher ...
Pierre
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Storyline

Three intertwined tales. On the eve of the First World War, Count Forbek starts to build a fantastic castle in the Ardennes forest. After the war he uses it to start a utopian society by brainwashing his friends, including his former fiancee, Livia, and her husband. In the present day, the castle is being used as an alternative school and, in the summer holidays, for an educational conference. At the conference, the American Nora Winkle bets Claudine that the ernest public school teacher Elisabeth Rousseau will be enticed into the bed of Robert Dufresne, even though the principal speaker, Walter Guarini, is obviously interested in Elisabeth. Meanwhile, the children staying at the castle over the holidays invent their own medieval tale about freeing prisoners from the dungeons. Written by Will Gilbert

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Drama | Comedy | Musical

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20 April 1983 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Life Is a Bed of Roses  »

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While old fashioned Kodak film was used for the 1910s scenes and legendary period, modern Fuji film was shot for the 1982 storyline, opposing dreamlike effects of the former to realism of the latter. See more »

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User Reviews

 
The mechanics of harmony
24 November 2012 | by (Greece) – See all my reviews

This may be the most misunderstood Resnais.

The film was a resounding flop when it came out, both in France and abroad. It is still not appreciated even among fans of Resnais who have come to terms with his lighter side. It is not hard to see why. Coming from the man who gave us Marienbad, initially this seems like a small narrative essay packed inside a bit of lightweight fantasy in the Woody Allen mode. A matter of silly adolescent frolicking instead of deep mysterious passion.

Fair point. But here's something else.

Resnais broadly speaking loves two things. On one hand, theater, movies, architecture, comic-books (he is a prominent collector) - so by extension, the color, frill and artifice of appearance. And you can see that in his actual films, almost without exception tuned to musing, fabrication and some form of theatricality.

His primary interest, however, is extending this notion of constructed realities to the deep end of the architecture of self. In simple terms, he attempts to show that what we largely accept as abstract propositions about ourselves (thought, memory) are internally the same fabrication as anything we build in life, and governed by exactly the same mechanism.

Cinema is the best medium to inherit the endeavor - not only is every image (as is every thought) staged in the mind's eye, not only does the camera as internal narrator shuffle up and slide through successive planes of narrative, but external space (the library in Tout le Histoire, the museum in Hiroshima, the hotel in Marienbad, the capsule in Je t'aime, etc.) mirrors our experience of internal space, the faculties of consciousness.

Add to these the lavish château somewhere in the Ardennes of this film.

There are three overlapping narratives centered on that place. One is romantic myth about the baby son of a king who grows up to slay the dragon and rescue the maiden. The second is about an architect in the 1910's whose plans to build the château and marry his loved one are interrupted by WWI. The third is set in present times, about a conference of educators and intellectuals who convene in the château to discuss new educational principles.

The main narrative thrust across all three is that there is no harmony in the spheres of the soul, though we construct artifice to that effect. There is a dialogue of sorts this kicks off within the film. Look at what Resnais does.

All three narratives are centered on artifice and ritual.

1) myth, glassy theatric decor, operatic singing of the plot. 2) the miniature modeled of the château, actual building and ritualized experiment that later takes place there. 3) another miniature landscape, the conference and romantic plot (which is not spontaneous but manipulated by a third party, hence artificial and ritualistic)

The point repeated across all three is the forcible creation of harmony, which is to say forcing nature to conform to what the mind thinks it ought to be, what the story of life ought to be.

Of the three, only the myth is happily resolved, the obvious product of fabrication.

The architect conducts an experiment that will make everyone be born anew, happy and in harmony with the world, but all the guests drink the miraculous potion except the love of his life.

The conference erupts in violent disagreement over the preferred method. The romantic thrysts end in unpredictable notes, not at all according to the plan of the woman who has manipulated the plot - played by Geraldine Chaplin, whose father made his cinematic fortunes by peddling artificial harmony and miraculous love.

The point is that there is no harmony outside the stories we devise, no single method to navigate the landscape of life, which is all for the better. Being interested, alert, spontaneous and involved in its exploration, like the teacher is interested in the miniature landscape laid before the educators, is the only way.

There are extra renderings on the historical evolution of narrative and the function of art, and all sorts of rich interplay as each nested layer illustrates and controls those above, but that is only the intellectual icing on an impeccably layered cake.

This is good, folks. It will not immediately win you over, because it is not a rich swim like early Resnais or Tarkovsky. It is whimsical, but not in the confrontational way of Greenaway, a bit chaste. The eye does not move walls of perception around, as in Welles. Unlike Inception, it explains in light ripples.

So be it. I count it next to Draughtsman as among the most intelligent in film.


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