The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
Details: (M), 108 mins, In Cinemas 12 August 2010, France,
Synopsis: Marie-Jeanne (Zabou Breitman) and Robert (Jacques Gamblin) have three children: Albert, Raphaël and Fleur. This portrait of their family is sketched out over 12 years, through five key days. Five crucial days in the life of a five-person family. Five days that are more important then any others, and after which nothing will ever be the same again.
A funny, poignant family saga which rings true.
French writer-director Rémi Bezançon’s wonderfully entertaining dramedy portrays the chaotic life of a family spanning 12 years, skilfully mixing everyday occurrences with more momentous events.
The Duval family is one most of us can recognise and relate to. They bicker, fight, love each other (mostly) and stick together through good times and bad. The themes are universal: teenage angst and tantrums, loss of virginity, offspring leaving home and getting married, fear of growing old, and bereavement. The moods vary from very funny to poignant. The performances are amazingly natural, rendering this family and their trials, tribulations, joy and occasional heartbreak entirely believable.
The title was inspired by a quote from Sam Mendes’ American Beauty when Kevin Spacey’s character says, “Remember those posters that said, ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life?’ Well, that's true with every day except one: the day that you die.”
Bezançon shrewdly divides The First Day of the Rest of Your Life into chapters, each taking place in the course of one day and each told from the viewpoint of one family member. The opening scene is a montage of Super 8 home movies of the Duvals frolicking on a beach.
Robert Duval (Jacques Gamblin) is a taxi driver indebted to his stern, disapproving father (Roger Dumas) for his comfortable house in the suburbs. He and his wife Marie-Jeanne (Zabou Breitman) are devoted to their kids: medical student Albert (Pio Marmai), layabout Raphaël (Marc-André Grondin) and grunge-loving tomboy Fleur (Déborah François). It’s 1988 and Albert is moving out to live in his grandad’s attic, and the family dog dies.
Jumping to 1993, Fleur turns 16 and loses her virginity in a vividly realised scene in which she glances back at her younger self and blood oozes from under the bedroom door; soon after she’s cruelly dumped by her boyfriend and has a blazing row with her parents.
It’s 1996 as Albert gets married and the occasion is overshadowed by the death of his grandfather. Raphaël reminisces about a beautiful woman he met seven years ago at an air guitar competition, with whom he tries to reconnect. Albert accuses his dad of ignoring and undervaluing him, which precisely mirrors Robert’s relationship with his father.
Fast forward to 1998 as Fleur storms out after discovering her mother had read her diary, Marie-Jeanne confesses she feels “old and ugly” and is momentarily attracted to her driving examiner.
The last chapter, set in 2000, is devoted to Robert as he evaluates his roles as a husband and father. Without giving away any spoilers, suffice to say the family is reconciled at a happy, relaxed dinner, but tragedy follows.
Among the most hilarious scenes, a doctor playfully compares Robert Duval to Robert Duvall, spouting the actor’s lines in Apocalypse Now; Fleur nearly dies with embarrassment when she’s caught in an indelicate situation by her boyfriend’s parents; and there’s a running joke about Robert’s unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking. There’s plenty of emotion and pathos but the film never succumbs to cheap sentimentality, and the soundtrack brilliantly underscores the events.
In 2009, the film won three Cesar awards, for best editing, Marc-André Grondin as most promising actor and Déborah François as most promising actress. Both are superb.
Watch Films Online
Films on SBS TV
SBS Film Guide to...
Celebrate Australian filmmaking with this home-grown season. Starts May 25.
A month of movies with an edge. Saturday nights in April.