By Gary M. Kramer.
Like Julien (Laurent Lafitte), the younger computer instructor, who tells Caroline (Fanny Ardant) the older woman he is romantically involved with that he is a diversion, Bright Days Ahead, co-written and directed by Marion Vernoux is a diverting film. Caroline, a retired dentist, takes some classes at the local senior center because her daughters gave her a gift certificate. During an acting class exercise, Caroline is asked to laugh, and things go badly, indicating that Caroline is perhaps a bit uptight. But when she meets Julien, a computer instructor, she loosens up. When Julien makes a pass at Caroline, they begin an affair that not only makes her smile, it makes her laugh.
Ardant is radiant in the throws of passion, and the couple’s not always discreet encounters are charming. Bright Days Ahead addresses issues of aging—Caroline’s classmates have a running discussion about “when they felt old,” and the film’s mood is mostly bright. It may be facile to think Caroline just needs to get laid, but her relationship with Julien helps her find a greater sense of self. Her smile, when she tells one of her daughters about her lover, is quite magical. Bright Days Ahead may give itself an easy out for an ending, but viewers who appreciate this gossamer romance will be enchanted. Ardant and Vernoux met with Film International during the Tribeca Film Festival to talk about their film.
Let’s talk about laughter. There’s an early scene where Caroline has trouble laughing, or feels too self-conscious. Is it easy for you to laugh? Or are you a more serious woman?
Fanny Ardant: I am a tragic person, so I don’t laugh a lot. I don’t laugh very often. I have a black vision of life, but certainly, I like comedy. I think to act well in a comedy, you have to be tragic.
Why make a comedy?
FA: Because I can’t put black on black all the time. It’s good to put some white on black.
Marion, why do you choose to work in the comic genre?
MV: When you write a script, it lasts for a long, long time. You have to live with it. You sleep with it, you wake up with it. And you don’t want to get bored with it, so you put humor in it.
FA: I think in America, and even in Europe now, to light a cigarette is like having a [gun] out. I think in Italian cinema, English, and French, the people drink and smoke and have sex without this Puritan morality. You don’t go to the cinema to have a lesson of morality. Everyone is smoking in France when they want to smoke. Nobody goes to [smoke] in the bar anymore because it’s forbidden. It’s very Fascist to be healthy. You go to your grave healthy, but you go to your grave. This woman of a certain age is full of life, and she comes [alive] with her lover, and the food, and the wine, the cigarette, and the laughing.
Marion, what do you think Caroline sees in Julien, who describes himself as a sweet good-for-nothing? What does Julien see in Caroline?
MV: I think it is this scene where she switches off the light in the room [to have sex]. I think that in the scene, Julien is turning on a light in her.
Do you think Caroline just needs to feel love/get laid to appreciate her life?
[Fanny defers to Marion with a look.] MV: The relationship between Julien and Caroline is not going to end at the threshold of the bedroom, so why not have sex?
FA: I’m going to use the metaphor of the poker table. You sit at the table. Are you going to always keep your card because you are afraid to lose your money? If you are gambling, don’t [you] feel that you can risk things? As you become older and older, you become more scandalous.
Do you find yourself being scandalous?
FA: I don’t feel that. One of my favorite authors is Marguerite Duras. When she was in her 80s, she had a love affair with a homosexual forty years younger than her. Everything is possible!
There is a great moment where Caroline tells Jocelyn, the depressed woman at the senior center, that she would say “It’ll be fine” before performing dentistry. The comments were more to reassure herself than the patient. Are there times you feel nervous, or do you ever strive to take a risk?
FA: I prefer take an opportunity, a risk. I never listen to people who reassure me. I can never trust or believe what they are saying.
Marion, you have made several “women’s” pictures. Was that a plan in your career?
MV: I think it’s more difficult for me to write or create a main character who is male. For me, when I am writing, in order for me to make men speak, they have to be answering women.
Fanny, you have worked with some incredible filmmakers: Truffaut, Ozon, Tsai-Ming Liang, Lelouch, Zeffirelli, Antonioni, Tavernier, Schlondorff, etc. What can you say about your remarkable career and collaborations and how they shaped you as an actress?
FA: I think the great acting influence you have is one you can’t define. I think the influence is like the rain coming down on the earth. You don’t know what it will make grow. For me, these directors—I don’t know…I might have a passion for what they are doing, or what they believe. It’s a privilege to direct a movie. It’s not a job like any other. You feel the personality of a director—how he or she is on the set. I don’t know to speak of it in terms of cinematography. The pleasure is very pragmatic, like theatre. I love the warmth, but I don’t mind the coldness. I am not afraid of brutality. I don’t care. It’s a very strange relationship with the director. I am a very “obsessional” woman. The opportunity to go inside another universe and follow this with a director is a great opportunity.
Marion, how do you direct an actress like Fanny?
MV: [Laughs] I think it’s very easy. We first started talking and realized I had someone who had read a great deal, and seen a great number of films, and lived a lot. I couldn’t pull the wool over her eyes about anything, because she’s been around the block—twice. [Fanny indicates she likes that image]. She knows. The easiest way to work, what made it easy to work was that I needed to be very precise, very frank, to be very open, and very direct. And as a result, we were able to have a very good relationship.
Gary M. Kramer is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and co-editor of the recently published Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.
Bright Days Ahead is currently available on VOD.
Read also: Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, “Female Sexual Pleasure Unpunished in Bright Days Ahead“.