Film Review: Les Beaux Jours (Bright Days Ahead) (2013)

“Time is all I have”

There’s something I find very hard to resist about the impossible glamour of French actress Fanny Ardant and so when a friend spotted that one of her newer films was being screened as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema mini-season and that there was a post-film Q&A, I was glad to be able to attend. Marion Vernoux’s Les Beaux Jours places Ardant full square and centre as Caroline, a 60 year old recently retired dentist in Calais mourning the death of her best friend some months before.

To help her out of her funk, her daughters get her a trial membership to a senior centre where she has the option of picking up any number of new hobbies like acting, pottery or IT skills. But being as gorgeous as she is though her grumpily overworked husband may not notice, what she soon picks up is the très charmant Julien who teaches the computer class and a deliciously thrilling affair strikes up between the pair as she surrenders to hedonistic pleasures with a handsome lover 20 years or so her junior.

Based on Fanny Chesnel’s novel Une jeune fille aux cheveux blancs, Vernoux’s film is something rather lovely. The striking visual composition of the opening soon gives way for something more conventional but her camera fixes firmly on the sensational work that Ardant gives here. There’s a wonderful carelessness about Caroline’s affair, it isn’t overdramatised so that it ends up feeling much more natural, their interactions often as awkward as they are amorous, an everyday affair rather than one to remember.

I liked that the film wore its feminism lightly too – Caroline is often seen as an active lover, the NGO where she might go and work is run by another older woman, only small details but important ones. Les Beaux Jours also explores the world of older people sensitively. The assumption that everyone is a loving grandparent 24/7 is skewered and the activity centre where they meet is full of characters from whom Caroline feels entirely estranged and she only slowly comes to recognise them, and their issues, as her contemporaries and her own.

Laurent Lafitte (de la Comédie Française as he is credited, though I don’t comprehend why) is excellent as the feckless Julien (and should always be bearded) whose wandering eye is never tamed even when in the deepest throes of this particular dalliance. And Patrick Chenais is also strong as husband Philippe, who plays an increasingly important film as we slowly come to realise that Les Beaux Jours is more a film about a marriage than an affair, the depth of the marital relationship being tested the true question at hand. Look out for it.

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