Bright Days Ahead (Les Beaux jours): Film Review

Bright Days Ahead - H - 2013
Thoughtful and touching old age dramedy features strong performances from a seasoned cast.

Fanny Ardant, Patrick Chesnais and Laurent Lafitte topline Marion Vernoux's story of a love affair between a man and a woman twice his age.

A former dentist having a late-life crisis finds comfort in the arms of a much younger man in Bright Days Ahead (Les Beaux jours), writer-director Marion Vernoux’s tender and terrifically cast coming-of-old-age dramedy. Starring Fanny Ardant as a soul-searching retiree, Laurent Lafitte as her pot-puffing beau, and the superb Patrick Chesnais as her mildly suspicious husband, this well-tempered love story gets a tad too airy in its third act, but otherwise provides a frank and endearing portrait of cross-generational relationships -- somewhere between the explicitness of Ulrich Seidl and the feel-goodness of Quartet and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Released locally by Le Pacte in mid-June, the film scored a promising 200,000 admissions it its opening week, and could very well become a summer box-office mainstay in France, with older audiences turning out in healthy numbers. Overseas, Days could travel beyond the usual Francophone circuits to selected art-house distributors, especially those who can smartly market it to the senior set.

Based on co-screenwriter Fanny Chesnel’s novel Une jeune fille aux cheveux blancs (A Young Girl with Gray Hair), the story follows the amorous travails of the recently retired Caroline (Ardant), who visits a nearby senior center -- named "Les Beaux jours," which is also the film’s French-language title -- where she’s supposed to partake in time-killing activities like ceramics and amateur theater. Instead, she finds a brand new hobby between the sheets with carefree ladies’ man, Julien (Lafitte), who teaches computer classes when he’s not bedding half the women in their small seaside town.

The initial courting scenes between the two are among the film’s strongest, with Ardant showcasing the charms that made her one of France’s most seductive stars in movies like Francois Truffaut’s Confidentially Yours and The Woman Next Door, while Comedie-Francaise troupe member Lafitte reveals a darker character than he’s played in recent hits like the cop caper On the Other Side of the Tracks.

Never outright explicit but racy none the same, the lovemaking soon becomes a regular routine between the two, with Caroline discovering newfound passion in her uneventful retirement, and Julien slowly growing attached to what was initially just another easy -- albeit significantly older -- lay. Meanwhile, Caroline begins to neglect her dentist spouse until he figures out something’s up, and the way that the excellent Chesnais  (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) portrays the cuckolded yet deeply understanding hubby is a study in intuition and restraint.

As things slide into the third act, the film heads in rather expected directions and winds up wrapping things up in a manner that seems all-too neat for such a host of messy lives. Still, as a whole, Bright Days Ahead remains an acute and endearing character study, and definitely one of the more convincing portraits of senior sex-and-love to come out in recent years.

Tech credits are classically polished, with cinematographer Nicolas Gaurin (Cold Showers) intimately capturing the Nord Pas-de-Calais locations, and Czech composer Quentin Sirjacq providing an emotionally infused score. A convincing cast of additional elders includes vets Jean-Francois Stevenin and Marie Riviere -- the latter of whom famously starred in Eric Rohmer’s classics The Aviator’s Wife and Summer.

Opens: June 19 (in France)

Production companies: Les Films du Kiosque, 27.11 Production

Cast: Fanny Ardant, Laurent Lafitte, Patrick Chesnais, Jean-Francois Stevenin, Marie Riviere

Director: Marion Vernoux

Screenwriter: Marion Vernoux, Fanny Chesnel, based on her novel Une jeune fille aux cheveux blancs

Producers: Francois Kraus, Denis Pineau-Valencienne, Juliette Favreul Renaud

Director of photography: Nicolas Gaurin

Production designer: Yann Dury

Costume designer: Marite Coutard

Music: Quentin Sirjacq

Editor: Benoit Quinon

Sales Agent: Le Pacte

No rating, 93 minutes