Written and directed by Marion Vernoux, making her return to the big-screen after a decade-long hiatus, Bright Days Ahead (2013) is an observant look at the simultaneous pangs and various liberties of ageing, detailing the story of a retiree who goes on something of a personal and sexual reawakening. The François Truffaut alumni and effortlessly alluring Fanny Ardant plays Caroline, a 60-year-old woman who has begun to reach an impasse in her unexpectedly dull post-retirement life. Caroline, at the behest of her daughters, begins attending classes at her local all-purpose seniors club, ‘Bright Days Ahead’, which offers fellow pensioners a selection of courses ranging from acting to wine-tasting.
Convinced that she’s not a complete lost cause, the married Caroline embraces the freedoms and pleasures of retirement; she enjoys drinking wine at lunch, begins smoking again, and acts upon the instant flirtation shared with their computer class teacher Julien (Laurent Lafitte), a dashing, commitment-free lothario who is almost three decades her junior. A passionate clandestine affair quickly takes shape, but Caroline’s guilt-free wish fulfilment begins to have repercussions when she begins running out of excuses for her numerous absences, and her husband Philippe (Patrick Chesnais) slowly starts getting suspicious. A predictable story that offers little new as far as narrative is concerned, the perceptiveness of Bright Days Ahead nevertheless lies with Vernoux’s depiction of retirement.
Through Ardant’s superbly believable performance, an individual’s twilight years can be an opportunity to release dormant thoughts, dreams and desires. The predominantly physical relationship between Caroline and Julien is intensely authentic, with each liaison revealing more about each respective partner, shedding light on both their incompatibility and similarities. This is mirrored by Vernoux’s drip-feed approach to the screenplay, which gradually reveals that Caroline is in fact still in mourning over the cancer-related death of her friend five months previously, a loss that adds fuel to the sudden awareness of her own mortality. Though the dichotomy between Julien’s frivolous thirtysomething nature and Philippe’s stuffy, emotionally stunted husband is too obviously drawn, and the direction uninspiring at best, Bright Days Ahead is a likable piece offering reassurance that life begins, rather than ends, at sixty.