The time has finally come for mature tales of amour, populated by mature characters.
Belying her advanced years, a veritable host of possibilities await main protagonist, Caroline (Fanny Ardant, The Great Beauty). A gift certificate to indulge in activities at the Bright Days Ahead senior citizens’ centre opens the retired dentist’s eyes to a world beyond her well-to-do life with husband Philippe (Patrick Chesnais, You Will Be My Son). Quickly, classes in acting, pottery and computers inspire new connections. Friendships are formed among those her own age, as is an illicit romance with the much younger Julien (Laurent Lafitte, Mood Indigo).
In writer/director Marion Vernoux’s (À boire) adaption of co-scribe Fanny Chesnel’s novel, Une jeune fille aux cheveux blancs, the future overflows with opportunity, with Caroline using her steamy affair as a method of unearthing her true essence. The story itself is well worn, filled as it is with adultery clichés and self-discovery, but its centring on an ageing woman as a protagonist illustrates two growing and refreshing trends. Accepting, rather than shying away from, the realities of getting older is fast becoming a cinematic staple, as is exploring extra-marital liaisons from a thoughtful female perspective. The time has finally come for mature tales of amour, populated by mature characters.
As Bright Days Ahead (Les beaux jours) charts Caroline’s dalliance with Julien, overflowing with uncertainty as it is, it is the pragmatism and feminine perception that retains interest; the surrounding elements rarely threaten to deviate from the predictable. Caroline makes for an intriguing point of focus, albeit a disappointingly simplistically written one. The complexity of her situation is hinted at, including its grounding in grief and boredom, its almost blatant flaunting throughout her small-town community, and the other, more age-appropriate paramours in Julien’s purview. Alas, easy wish-fulfilment triumphs over a thorough consideration of the motivation for, meaning of and lasting repercussions from infidelity within such an established existence.
Ardant endeavours to transcend the routine in a bright and breezy display, and is never anything less than the film’s best asset. She wears both heady excitement and festering guilt on her expressive face, conveying emotion in a more convincing fashion than the underlying story. Her chemistry with the suitably alluring and erratic Lafitte demonstrates their characters’ magnetic pull towards each other, and her sorrowful scenes with the aptly resigned Chesnais show both the comfort and weariness of a long-term marriage. The trio’s attuned performances imbue depth much needed but otherwise absent.
Making her sixth feature, filmmaker Vernoux plays with style but settles into the expected. The familiar sheen often afforded appealing French settings is retained throughout, as is the lightness that matches the weavings of both romantic and situational comedy. Nevertheless, neither aesthetic flourishes nor can hints of amusement break the adherence to formula. Bright Days Ahead’s evident stretches – in attention, point-of-view and portrayal – may be significant, but they can’t eclipse the feature’s otherwise standard output.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Bright Days Ahead (Les beaux jours)
Director: Marion Vernoux
France, 2013, 94 mins
Alliance Française French Film Festival
Sydney: 4 – 23 March
Melbourne: 5 – 23 March
Canberra: 6 – 25 March
Brisbane: 6 – 25 March
Perth: 18 March – 6 April
Adelaide: 20 March – 8 April
Byron Bay: 24 – 28 April