BRIGHT DAYS AHEAD 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 of an older persons’ club as a present from her grown-up daughters. Here, she soon ditches the other retirees 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 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 extramarital sex, instead of in conventional pursuits such as perhaps 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 30-something with young children to have an affair, but quite another for a woman of over 60.
Director Marion Vernoux, whose previous films have been similar tales of women whose lives seem to have come to a dead end and who 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 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 and looking as if in deep contemplation, probably about the unknown future that stretches out in front of her.
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.