Review: Bright Days Ahead



The third instalment of Phoenix Picturehouse’s series of French previews, in collaboration with Rendez-vous with French Film, Bright Days Ahead (Les Beaux Jours) is a coming-of-old-age tale, in which Caroline, a recently retired dentist (Fanny Ardant) finds romance with a man half her age. Discovering that her newly found freedom is in fact developing into an unending and underwhelming promise of free time, free time and yet more free time, she is given a membership for an older persons’ club as a present from her grown-up daughters. Here, she soon ditches the other retirées and rather patronising amateur theatre, pottery and computer classes, to embark on an affair with Julien, the ICT teacher and ladies’ man (Laurent Lafitte), whose lessons in how to turn on a computer soon turn into lessons in love.

Played magnificently by the radiant Fanny Ardant, whose spot-on performance garnered her a nomination for best actress at the César awards, Caroline is at times hesitant, and at times mischievous, but all the while retaining the air of a young girl who gets a thrill from breaking the rules. The taboo surrounding the idea that an older woman might find fun in extra-marital sex, instead of the conventional areas like  a book club or a painting group, is also made evident. When she confesses her affair to her daughter, the reaction is one of surprise, and even laughter; “Well yes, me too” comes the younger woman’s reply, the implication being that it’s one thing for a thirty-something with young children to have an affair, but quite another for a woman of over sixty.

Marion Vernoux the director, whose previous films have been similar tales of women whose lives seem to have come to a dead end and discover love in unexpected places, has a produced a witty script and selected a fitting soundtrack, which ranges from sparing piano melodies to French pop. The cinematography is also often rather beautiful, turning the usually bleak and industrial landscape of Nord-Pas-de-Calais into mesmerising coastal panoramas, where we often find our protagonist sitting looking as if in deep contemplation, probably about the unknown future that stretches out in front of her.

The ending is poignant, yet perhaps unrealistic. We are taken a couple of years into the future, where Caroline is reconciled with her husband (Patrick Chesnais), who was always funny and frankly rather sexy (although that may just be my own personal attachment to all French men), whose suspicions about his wife’s activities had turned out to be true. And Caroline’s flirty new Marilyn Monroe-esque haircut suggests that she still hasn’t given up her quest to have a bit of fun.

A young girl with grey hair, the title of the book from which the film was adapted, is also quite revealing: here we have an older woman who rejects the idea that fun and happiness should remain firmly in the realm of the young. Bright Days Ahead is a playful, touching, and at times hilarious, film about finding fun whatever your age. And the cries of knowing laughter from the octogenarian audience I shared the screening with were certainly in agreement.

PHOTO/ blenderss



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