Alain Resnais’ Love Unto Death & Life is a Bed of Roses

| July 21, 2015

With an incredible body of work and having a tremendous impact on French cinema as a whole, Alain Resnais has very few of his films released on Blu-Ray. While Criterion has the essentials, like Last Year at Marienbad and the recently released Hiroshima mon amour, very few films of his are available, until now. Leave it to the Cohen Film Collection to give us not just one, but two films in the same package, Love Unto Death (L’Amour A Mort) and Life is a Bed of Roses (La Vie est un Roman). Released a year apart from one another and having a few of the same cast members, these two films are quite the pairing together and present two distinct entries in the filmmakers career.

Released in 1983, Life is a Bed of Roses is a multi threaded narrative, which weaves through three different timelines, all within the Ardennes Forest. There’s a fantasy story, where a prince must reclaim his kingdom, after it was taken away by his father’s rival. Another portion takes place in 1914, where Count Forbek wishes to create a land of wonder, for both his closest friends and confidants. Due to interference of World War I, Forbek only creates a portion of the castle, where he invites all of his friends back to be reborn. The third portion of the story, takes place in present day, where the castle still remains, but is an alternative school, which is hosting a seminar, where scholars and educators are to meet, discuss and collaborate on new ways to educate the future.

While its easy to see that this film was Resnais paying tribute to early filmmakers like George Melies and Eric Rohmer, Roses turns out to be a complete failure. While every single narrative has lofty ideas about the power of imagination, all three narratives feel incomplete, as if each of them should have been their own film. The casting and production design are absolutely delightful, which distinctly have their own feel. You know at any given time which story you’re in, due to the wonderful visual design, but the stories never feel completely cohesive. The film is very light hearted, to an extent, with the exception being the tale of Count Forbek, which helps one get through the film, but due to its convoluted nature and lack of precision, Life is a Bed of Roses is definitely the weaker film in this set.

While the first film in this double feature had me worried, the moment that Love Unto Death began, I knew that I was in for a treat. Elizabeth (Sabine Azema) has been dating Simon (Pierre Arditi) for only a few months, but she’s madly in love with him. One day, she finds him writhing in pain in bed, so Elizabeth calls for a doctor. When the doctor arrives, he proclaims that Simon has died, but once the doctor leaves the house, she goes back to find Simon waking up, as if he’d only fainted. They find the encounter odd and decide to ask their friends, Jerome (Andre Dussolier) and Judith (Fanny Ardant), a married couple that teach at the local seminary, about it and their thoughts on what could be the problem.

While the film’s premise is certainly odd and would be difficult for many people to handle, Love Unto Death is a meditation on what true love is and the existence of the afterlife. While both concepts are very different from one another, Resnais weaves back and forth, showing full complexity of both notions through his characters, his story and the design of the film. Even the films dissonant score, created by Hans Werner Henze, embodies the subject matter and the turmoil of emotions that the characters find themselves in, which is evenly placed between scenes of darkness and drifting snow. Resnais uses both red and black, to reinforce his ideas and themes for the film. In every scene, Azema wears either all red, or a combination of both colors, in order to represent both her passionate love for Simon, as well the notion of her soul perishing at the idea of Simon’s eventual passing. Simon always wears black, illustrating his eventual demise, as well as his denial of both God and the idea of a heavenly afterlife. These things, paired with the opposite couple of Jerome and Judith, who side with a religious angle, provide the film with an delicate amount of drama and plenty of thought provoking notions that can keep a cinephile stewing for days.

There aren’t much in the way of special features for the films in the set, but there are full length commentaries from Wade Major and Andy Klein for each film. Again, with both films sharing the much of the same cast and being representations of ideals that play well off of each other, it makes sense that the Cohen Film Collection put them together in the same package. While Life is a Bed of Roses is worth seeing once, Love Unto Death is an astounding work of cinema and if you enjoy films from Bergman and Rohmer, you’ll find yourself madly in love with this intelligent masterpiece. Recommended!

About the Author:

is a graduate from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Audio for Visual Media. He works as a freelance location sound mixer, boom operator, sound designer, and writer in his native Chicago. He's an avid collector of films, comics, and anime.
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