When the twentysomething receptionist at the retirement club sighs with disappointment that she “saw [her] life differently,” the irony is clear — although the setup might make you brace for a gut-punch about old age and hindsight. (Wait until time renders your bones brittle, then you can mourn your failed dreams!)
Fortunately, it never comes. Instead, Bright Days Ahead, from writer-director Marion Vernoux, surprises with a lighthearted depiction of life after 60.
Caroline, played by the luminous Fanny Ardant, is a reluctant retiree whose daughters push her into taking classes at the local seniors’ club. Frustrated with the infantilizing treatment from her children and instructors, she indulges in a different distraction: an affair with Julien (Laurent Lafitte), the club’s computer teacher, who is as young as she wants to feel.
Ardant’s allure in these scenes is undeniable. There’s real pleasure in seeing her impish smile as she sneaks bottles of wine out of her house at night like a teenager breaking curfew. It’s unfortunate, though, that the relationship between Caroline and her husband, Philippe (Patrick Chesnais), takes a backseat to the affair.
Theirs is realistic portrayal of a long marriage that offers some insight into love after children, work, and even sex are no longer priorities, but Bright Days Ahead mostly breezes past the moral issues.
Ultimately, this is all about Caroline, and it’s refreshing to see an optimistic story about an older woman who is funny, smart, and desirable, even if her happy life doesn’t leave much room for conflict.