Wearing a flannel shirt and form fitting jeans as she saunters across the screen, it is hard to believe that famed French actress Fanny Ardant just turned 65 years-old. There is a youthful air to her that is undeniable. Displaying both confidence and sensuality, it is easy to see why men off all ages would fall for her character in Marion Vernoux’s latest film Bright Days Ahead.
In the May-December dramedy, Ardant plays Caroline, a dentist who was forced into retirement due to a disagreement with a former colleague. With nothing but time on her hands, as her two daughters are married and have children of their own, Caroline decides to enroll in a few recreational classes at the local seniors club. It is there where she meets Julien (Laurent Lafitte), the computer course teacher who is two decades her junior.
Not shy about his attraction to her, Julien immediately starts flirting with Caroline. Soon a passionate affair ensues and Caroline not only finds herself frequently lying to her husband Philippe (Patrick Chesnais), but in some ways herself as well. Caroline knows that Julien is womanizer in every sense of the word, but that does little to curb her desire for him. As if transported back to her carefree youth, Caroline soon begins to not only lose sight of her marriage, but also what her relationship with Julien is really about.
Anchored by Fanny Ardant’s wonderful performance, Bright Days Ahead is a film that approaches the themes of age and sexuality in an engaging way. Ardant brings a nice complexity and vigor to the role. She makes you wish there were more characters like Caroline on film these days. Bright Days Ahead is not so much a film about an older woman’s affair with a younger man, as it is about a woman travelling on her own path.
Julien notes at one point that their relationship has been on Caroline’s terms. While this may seem like a lame excuse to justify his own philandering ways, Julien’s word really resonates when one considers Caroline’s relationship with her husband. There is a wonderfully tense moment between Caroline and Philippe, in which Caroline realizes she may not be a slick as she thought, that really hits this point home.
Though some will argue that Philippe is far too passive, I think Vernoux was wise to portray him the way she does. Philippe is not a horrible husband, just a guy who has already accepted some of the limitation that age brings. He has figured out what is truly important in life. Caroline’s selfishness causes her to take the long road to this same discovery. Though sexually invigorated again, her encounters with Julien are not as emotionally freeing as she wants to believe they are. The threat of Julien’s next “relapse”, with whatever female might be in the vicinity, will always be present.
While Bright Days Ahead presents a rich and complex female lead for us to follow, the film is not without its flaws. The comedy in the film is never as strong as one would hope for. It exposes the fact that the film lacks the depth to truly make it great. Also, some of the minor plot points, most notably the recent death of Caroline’s friend Anne, never truly connect. Though Vernoux tries to imply that Anne’s death may be a catalyst for Caroline’s lust to live life to the fullest, there is just not enough evidence of this.
Shortcomings aside, Bright Days Ahead is as engaging as the female protagonist at its core. Ardant’s sensual and sensational performance helps this film to soar above typical conventions.
Tonight, 6:30 pm, The Royal