Losing your best friend is difficult at any age especially when you share similar interests and perspectives. How one works through loss is one of the elements presented in Bright Days Ahead directed by Marion Vernoux and written by Marion Vernoux and Fanny Chesnel adapted from Chesnel’s novel. Though Caroline (the always interesting and deep Fanny Ardant), has a good marriage and is a vibrant grandmother involved with her family, her friend’s death is particularly troubling. Perhaps it is because she is recently retired and has no one she enjoys doing activities with more than with her absent friend. Perhaps it is because the death is a reminder of her advancing age and her own mortality. Can there truly be “bright days ahead” for Caroline or will it be a long downhill slide as it was for her friend?
To help her through the grieving time and depression, Caroline’s daughters enroll her in a trial period at “Bright Days Ahead,” a seaside senior center which has an involved network of lively retirees who engage in a multitude of novel, joyful activities. Caroline tries it out to humor her family but is disengaged and vows that she will never return after feeling humiliated in acting class. However, she needs information from the computer science teacher, so she stays for a class, likes what she experiences and decides she wants to become more savvy with computers. The draw is Julien (Laurent Lefitte), a thirty-something hottie who sports a touch of arrogance mixed with a dash of charm and sexy, masculine allure. Julien loves attractive women; he especially gets off on feeling empowered by their attraction to him. He is also a benign sex addict.
Caroline and Julien cannot resist their interest in and attraction to one another, despite Caroline’s family ties, her love for her husband, Philippe (Patrick Chesnais), and their age difference of over twenty-five years. They become passionate and their intimacies spill over to different venues reminiscent of youthful bygone days for both: his car, the senior center, his apartment and elsewhere, though Caroline is too discrete to ever bring him home while Philippe is at work. Their relationship shows great humor, equanimity, depth and understanding, despite the intricate and growing complications of their affair. Friends at the senior center intuit what is going on and congratulate her. Caroline’s excuses for her absence or late night returns become more frequent, funny and obvious.
Philippe suspects something is amiss and fails miserably at attempting to please Caroline sexually. He fears losing her and takes a stand confronting her with moderated intellect and balance. He gives her some latitude because of their history and love for each other, his acceptance of the trauma of her friend’s death, her retirement and the difficult transition she is going through. For Caroline it is as if she is galloping around a racetrack toward a return to youth, a renewed sexual vibrancy and the disposal of static routines and morbidity. The question for Philippe and for Caroline is whether or not this is the beginning of a permanent transition or a phase she needs to go through bridged by her husband’s love and patience.
How Chesnel and Vernoux resolve the relationship conundrums they create for Julien, Caroline, Philippe and their family is an uplifting and engrossing ride. The film squarely presents intriguing questions about remaining vital while growing older. Its unvarnished look at how Caroline bravely is inspired to find new meaning as she transitions toward another aspect of her life plunges the audience into new and intriguing territory. The characterizations and plot twists are effected with a hope and joy that is refreshing. The film’s exuberance and humor delivered through an excellent ensemble cast lead by sterling actors Ardant and Lafitte with clever direction by Vernoux will resonate with a wide audience.
Bright Days Ahead is a narrative feature from France that had its U.S. Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival. It is in French with subtitles.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00J3ZE702,B00IG4P3EA]