Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tribeca ’14: Bright Days Ahead

Caroline looks considerably younger than her husband Philippe, but he still practices dentistry, whereas she has retired. That means she has time on her hands. Much to her surprise, she will find things to do at an upscale senior center that happens to employ a much younger but surprisingly receptive personal computing teacher. Fanny Ardant takes a diva turn in Marion Vernoux’s adultery drama Bright Days Ahead (trailer here), which screened during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

Caroline is not adapting well to retirement. When her grown daughters buy her a trial membership at the Bright Days Ahead senior’s club, she nearly has a fit. You can hardly blame her—a name like that sounds like some sort of rehab clinic. Reluctantly, she starts going to Julien’s computer classes when their home PC goes on the Fritz. Before long, some cougar-himbo hanky-panky commences.  Unfortunately, her increasing recklessness leads to inevitable exposure.

Even with the not exactly jaw-dropping age difference between the not-so secret lovers, Bright is a pretty standard exercise in cinematic infidelity. Yes, Ardant still has it, but what distinguishes Vernoux’s otherwise conventional screenplay (co-written with Fanny Chesnel) are a handful of blisteringly honest scenes and a quiet gut-check performance from Patrick Chesnais as the wronged husband.

Philippe is indeed wronged, a fact that Vernoux and Chesnel do nothing to water-down. Refusing to be conveniently submissive, he is a dignified yet emotionally messy rebuke to the of pat empowerment themes often bandied about by adulterous wife movies. Similarly, Caroline goes into the affair remarkably clear-headed, even helping Julien keep up appearances with his younger lovers. However, you might have to be a sixty-some year old French woman to appreciate the charms of Laurent Lafitte’s Julien.

Without question, it is the veterans Ardant and Chesnais who make Bright work to the extent it does, particularly in their scenes together. Rather undistinguished looking, it still has enough incisive moments that pop to make the whole worthwhile. Recommended for Francophiles, Bright Days Ahead has already opened in New York at the Quad Cinema, following its American premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. It also screens this Sunday (5/4) at the Montclair Film Film Festival in Jersey.