When we think about coming-of-age movies, the default age of their protagonists is often set to ‘teen’. Said teen will enter a new chapter of their life, often thrusted upon them unwittingly, and they must navigate an altogether new and treacherous terrain, seeking support from friends and family along the way. They live, they learn, they love, roll credits. Aurore, a French comedy form director Blandine Lenoir, is just as much a coming of age picture as Love, Simon or even the American Pie franchise, the only real difference is our protagonist is a middle-aged divorcee with two kids and a mortgage.
When we meet Aurore, played by Agnès Jaoui, she is in the jaws of the menopause, prone to outbursts of emotion and hot flushes. Having worked as a waitress for most of her life, she now finds her place of work under new ownership with a boss who pushes her into the darkness of bar work whilst the younger models of waitressing continue to work the floor. In short, life has snuck up on Aurore and she’s woken up to find she’s old. This fact is further compounded when her eldest daughter, Marina (Sarah Suco), surprises her with news that she’s going to be a grandma. Hurray?
The comedian Dylan Moran made the observation that as a woman ages the masks she wears fall and change with her stage in life, whilst men simply stick one finger up their nose and get taller. That’s in essence what Aurore is about. Initially, she has no control over the events that are surrounding her and yet they define with each passing day, moulding her into someone else. This is exemplified by the fact her daughter is pregnant; everyone she runs across addresses her as Grandma. She’s not a person. She’s a role. Even before then, she’s rebranded by her new boss to be called ‘Samantha’. And, further emphasising the fickleness of some men, this name is soon shortened to Sam. Neither of which our hero appears to have a choice about.
However, Aurore isn’t about simply putting its titular character through the mill. The screenplay allows her to try and blossom, shedding the labels – mum, grandma, waitress, maid – that smother her. All of which is kicked off by a chance encounter with a former lover from her teens, Totoche (Thibault de Montalembert). In Totoche, Aurore sees an opportunity to rewind the clock, perhaps recapture some of her youth. This possibility is perhaps best shown during a first date where Aurore and Totoche find themselves in a loud restaurant where they are unable to talk. However, in their silence Lenoir captures them wordlessly rekindling their passion for each other. Without flair or special effect, we see them as they see each other: as they are now and as they once were.
If that sounds sentimental, then so be it. Aurore is a sentimental film of a fashion. As the mum of two pushes forward in her new life, Aurore inevitably looks back to when she was the centre of someone’s world. Meeting her ex-husband, who has started a new family, only compounds this fact. He gets a second chance, the film points out, so why not her.
As well as heart, Aurore is bursting with joy and brilliant performances. This is very much a film where women stand front and centre, with male characters deliberately left to the sidelines. Jaoui’s performance as Aurore is beautifully played as she balances quick wit and humour with humanity. Whilst you’re watching, keep an eye out for Pascale Arbillot as Aurore’s friend, who embraces her age by wilfully breaking up couples in the street, and Iro Bardis as the elderly Thérèse, a character that manages to do something different with the erotically charged octogenarian stereotype.
A fine film in every sense of the word, Aurore is one those films that feels like it’s giving you a giant hug and, regardless of your position in life, is packing you off for the next exciting chapter of your life with as much love as it can. Put simply, Aurore is terrific.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
‘Aurore’ opens in Australian cinemas on May 17.