Friday, October 10, 2014

NYFF52 Day 15: Sad Goodbye in 'Life of Riley'; Good Riddance in 'Listen Up Philip'

All of these women (Caroline Silhol, Sandrine Kiberlain and Sabine Azéma) believe they are going on vacation with George in "Life of Riley" (“Aimer, Boire et Chanter”). Photo courtesy of the New York Film Festival.

HEADS UP: Picking up where we left off last year, but expanding a tad (OK, quite a bit but still pithy), we will limit comments about New York Film Festival films to no more than 200. And ... Lights. Camera. ACTION! ...

“LIFE of Riley” (“Aimer, Boire et Chanter”), a film nominally about death, will forever be known as the final film of Alain Resnais.

The French director died shortly after his film won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize at the 64th International Berlin Film Festival. “Life of Riley” is in the first of its two U.S. premiere screenings tonight at “The 52nd New York Film Festival.”

The film unfolds in broad, comedic overtones in its treatment of how three couples receive the news of the terminal illness of their friend of the title, George Riley. He is never seen but is the central character.

“Life of Riley” is largely faithful to its source material, Alan Ayckbourn's play of the same name, which channels another of the playwright's works, “Relatively Speaking.”

Set in the English countryside, AS's “Life of Riley” has a fairy-tale quality, mainly owing to budget-driven comic strip panels that introduce scene changes. It is also akin to watching a play, fitting since play rehearsals figure prominently in the plot.

Some viewers may find this device disconcerting but it is surreal and fanciful, adding to the absurdist nature of the proceedings. (See video below).

Starring several AR collaborators, including (André Dussollier and Sabine Azéma, his widow) “Life of Riley” is a delightful little souffle and a fitting memorial to a long career marked by experimentation and innovation.

If likable is an apt description of the main characters in “Life of Riley,” loathsome fairly sums up the leads in “Listen Up Philip.” The film has its second U.S. premiere screening tonight and opens nationally on 17 Oct.

Alex Ross Perry's offbeat dramedy concerns Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartman) during the imminent publication of his second novel. Philip is a literary light-in-the-making with many dark sides. Before he implodes he takes himself off to the country home of his idol, Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce). (See video below).

Jonathan Pryce and Jason Schwartzman have a bromance in "Listen Up Philip." Photo by Sean Price Williams.

The literary cub and literary lion knock along well enough for no other reason than they are two sides of the same coin. They like what they see, someone who is too brilliant and talented for this pedestrian world.

What everyone else sees, however, is a boor. An egomaniacal, arrogant, conceited, self-absorbed, self-centered, insecure and insensitive fellow.

JS and JP play their parts, inspired by Philip Roth and William Gaddis), to perfection. They are utterly credible, as are the women who do not suffer them gladly (Joséphine de La Baume, Elisabeth Moss and Krysten Ritter).

“Listen Up Philip” is smart and witty. It could benefit, however, from editing to tighten the pace and take viewers out of their misery.

Here are despicable characters. A little of them goes a long way.

Visit to learn more about The 52nd New York Film Festival, including tickets and showtimes.

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