The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
[Le Premier Jour du Reste de ta Vie]
d. Rémi Bezançon / France / 2008 / 114 mins
Viewed at: Screen 5 @ Apollo Piccadilly Circus (London, UK)
Please believe me when I say that I love French films as much as the next film-school educated, Derrida-reading, Godard-loving, directionless leftie. But does the world really need yet another mildly entertaining film about a middle-class French family undergoing a series of decidedly middle-class hardships. I mean, we’ve seen it all before, right? Been there, watched that, etc? Well yeah, we have. And yet I couldn’t possibly make myself hate Rémi Bezançon’s multi-César winning The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, and believe me, I tried.*
Recounting a pivotal day in the lives of each member of the Duval family – father Robert (Jacques Gamblin), mother Marie-Jeanne (Zabou Breitman) and their children, Fleur (Déborah François), Raphaël (Marc-André Grondin) and Albert (Pio Marmaï), First Day… covers a subject very dear to the heart of French cinemagoers, the bourgeois family and the mortal fear that we might all end up repeating the sins of our fathers.
In most instances, films which attempt to portray the evolution of familial relationships over extended periods tend to spread themselves exceedingly thin and, as a result, fall decidedly flat. Admittedly the French have had more practice at this kind of caper, but even still, the success with which Bezançon handles the various crises of the Duval family is something of a minor victory. The ace up his sleeve is, I think, his gloriously tangential treatment of human memory.
Bezançon, who wrote as well as directed, flashes his characters backwards and forwards though time, neatly reflecting the inherent vagaries of memory. Jumping through the Duval family timeline with reckless abandon, First Day… has the potential to end up a confusing, muddled mess, but thanks to Bezançon’s gentle handling audiences are treated to a rare example of the logical dislocation of time. As obvious and trivial as it may seem, the way this film treats human memory is much more like the real thing. Evoking larger, overarching themes of human existence, Bezançon focuses not on big life-changing moments, but upon the important things, the small things, the snippets of memory that are triggered by the smallest – seemingly inconsequential – detail. And for that he deserves praise.
The First Day of the Rest of Your Life is not perfect, it’s not even a particularly great film and it’s probably already well on its way to relative obscurity. But in the scheme of things – in a world where the cherished few are destined to remain ‘classics’ of the cinematic realm – does any of that really matter? For a little under two hours, I greatly enjoyed the company of a middle-class French family, and endured with them, the same boring, middle-class crises that millions of us face every single day.