Age vs Maturity: Sex and the Sea in Bright Days Ahead

Bright Days Ahead is available to watch for free on BoB.

Bright Days Ahead is a film about ageing and how sex intersects with this process – but it is far more than just a comedy about old people having affairs. It explores the changes that come with age, both in body and in soul, and the grief that accompanies that. In creating this festival of chick flicks, Bright Days Ahead is probably a film that stands out as one of the more obscure selections on the list (apologies to any huge fans of indie french cinema out there.) However, in an odd way, it probably made it far easier for me to write about this film than any other film in the#RAZZFilmFest selection. I knew nothing about Bright Days Ahead, it was a completely blank slate. Ultimately, I found myself moved as well as amused by this French comedy about age, grief, and of course, sex.

The spectre of both age and grief hangs over the film’s protagonist, Camille, constantly, in the form of the ocean. The ocean becomes almost an omnipresent figure, a near constant presence in the background, reminding Camille of the state of flux that she exists in, and wishes to hide from. It is no coincidence that Camille is often depicted running from the ocean, withdrawing from its ever changing nature to her ultimate distraction – her affair with young computer instructor Julien. When they first kiss on the pier, they then run away from the ocean and into his car, escaping the ocean, but trapping themselves inside. In fact, Camille is represented often with Julien as trapped. His apartment has a beautiful ocean view that only reminds Camille how enclosed she is and the couple are often shot through a fish tank, representing how the affair is not the escape that Camille hopes for. Camille’s refusal to age leaves her stuck. Indeed, when Camille’s husband Phillipe leaves her, he walks away from her directly towards the sea that looms in the deep background of the shot. Furthering this contrast between age and youth, everything about Julien – from his clothes to his apartment – is associated with orange. This is a stark contrast to how Camille’s husband, Phillipe, is inversely always associated with blue, until their eventual reunion at the end of the film where they are shot together with the backdrop of an orange motel. By the end of the film, Camille accepts that enjoyment and age are not as estranged as she previously believed, hence the colour orange beginning to seep into her life with Phillipe. 

Source: Still from Bright Days Ahead / Vis BoB

This dichotomy between age and youth can be seen in the film’s structure. In a strange way, the film almost mirrors a coming of age story. The retirees at the Bright Days Ahead centre gossip over the changes their bodies are going through like teenage girls going through puberty. Furthermore, Camille’s arc depicts her ageing from childlike vulnerability, through teenage irresponsibility, to an adult lust for life. At the start of the film, Camille is rendered an almost childlike figure by her grief, both for loss of her youth and for loss of her best friend to cancer. When she embarks on an affair with Julien, an instructor half her age, she becomes adolescent again – kissing in cars, dining and ditching, and getting high in his bed. At the end of the film, she is finally an adult. She has not only accepted her age, she has also learnt to enjoy it, to have fun with the community she has found in the Bright Days Ahead centre the movie is named after. 

Furthermore, it is important to note the age gap between Camille and Julien when discussing Bright Days Ahead. Julien is half Camille’s age, which is important not only for how he symbolises her desire for youth, but also in how this factors into depictions of age and romance across cinema. Films with large age gaps between its romantic leads aren’t unusual, however, it is unusual to have an older woman portrayed as sexy and desirable rather than an older man. Men are often given the freedom to age gracefully, hence the popularity of the term “silver fox”, whereas women are too often relegated to the role of the matron by the time they pass the age of thirty. The women within Bright Days Ahead comment on this inequality, with one going so far as to congratulate Camille when her affair becomes public knowledge, saying “For once it’s the other round, you’re avenging us.”

Source: Still from Bright Days Ahead / Vis BoB

At the end of the film, Camille’s newfound freedom that accompanies accepting her age is represented in how she finally enters the ocean. Surrounded by the retirees from the Bright Days Ahead centre, she charges into the surf with Phillipe and the film ends on a still of them together amongst the crashing waves. A fish tank with Julien can not compare to an ocean with Phillipe and the film ends with her happy, and content, and most importantly, free. In Bright Days Ahead, age is not depicted as a constricting force, nor a gentle decline into death. Instead age and retirement is represented as a blessing in how it frees up your time, your heart, and your life. The message is clear; for all of us, no matter how old, there will always be bright days ahead. 

-Emma Ingledew

Feature Image Source: Megan Shepherd

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