At TIFF, I saw the wonderful French actress Fanny Ardant in the new movie Bright Days Ahead (2013) directed by Marion Vernoux. Ardant plays a dentist who reacts to the death of her best friend with a precipitous decision to retire. As the movie begins, she is faced with the fallout of her abrupt decision. She is given a trial membership in a local seniors center and, skeptical and bored, she decides to try it out. The movie focuses on her response to the activities and people at that Centre, and how she finds her own way into retirement. Suffice it to say, her adaptation is typically French, sensuous, wonderfully satisfying, and the movie a heart-warming experience which I highly recommend.
This movie is another in the rising tide of movies depicting adaptations to aging, obviously aimed at the burgeoning boomer generation. Within this genre, French movies have been some of the best I have seen. Amour (2012) directed by Michael Haneke and staring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, won the Academy Award for best foreign language film and was nominated in four additional categories. It depicts an elderly couple struggling with the effects of a stroke. It is not easy to watch but totally unforgettable. Another is All Together (or And If We All Lived Together) (20ll), directed by Stephanie Robelin and starring among others Jane Fonda, Guy Bedos, Daniel Bruhl and Geraldine Chaplin. Like Ardant’s retired dentist, Jane Fonda’s character finds her own response to aging as one of five old friends who decide to live together in their retirement.
As an aside, unrelated people coming together to live in retirement is the theme of the 2012 smash hit, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel directed by John Madden and starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson. I saw this movie in the theatre and have watched it numerous times since, whenever it shows up on an airplane trip.
What is particularly heartening about these movies are the performances of the actors who are themselves role models for successful aging. Emmanuelle Riva was nominated for an Academy for Best Actress in a Leading Role at 85 years of age. When they made the movies I am describing, Jean-Louis Trintignant was 82, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith 78, and Jane Fonda 74. Fanny Ardant and Bill Nighy were born in l949, as was Meryl Streep whom I also saw at TIFF in the searing August Osage County. These actors appear in roles which deal with the issue of retirement and aging, while they themselves continue working in their chosen profession. They have not retired. But then, they have control over what they choose to do in their work. They can take on as much, or as little, as they choose. And maybe that is key.