The First Day of Rest of Your Life

Original French title: Le premier jour du reste de ta vie; Cast: Jacques Gamblin, Zabou Breitman and Déborah François; Director: Rémi Bezançon

French were the original torchbearers of the New Wave movement that changed the filmmaking world. Even Tamil films were affected by this movement. Balu Mahendra combined French New Wave and Italian Neo Realism with Indian melodrama successfully to produce a unique effect. Even today, we can see the effects of New Wave on directors like Selvaraghavan and Vetrimaaran.

This New Wave came as a way of rejecting the tradition of Hollywood style of film making. Now, many directors tried the question: what if these two were to marry? Hollywood’s classical three-act merging with New Wave! Well, it is not new and has been tried several times before.

Still, it was refreshing to watch The First Day of Rest of Your Life. It defies three-act triumphantly in the sense that it does not have a clear protagonist, goals, development, resolution, or sub-plots. Every act is a sub-plot and somehow, vaguely, albeit half-heartedly, connecting to a loosely threaded main plot.

It takes one key day out of each member of a family, a father, a mother, two sons and a daughter: So five days and therefore five acts. Their chosen days are not really significant, except the father’s chapter, which kind of acts as a conclusion, the rest of the chapters could have been taken from any day of their lives. In this way, it really emphasises the idea that every day is the first day of rest of your life. It has the potential to be significant or ordinary. Just like our life.

The film does not push this idea in your face. Well, the French are not known to do that and, if anything, they are expected to be quite subtle. The Five acts don’t connect. Except in a couple of places, the title is not mentioned at all. There is no story because these chapters don’t set goals and don’t resolve them. Their problems are just like anybody else’s. These are serious people, with serious problems and serious fun.

The key is in how much you can identify with these characters. They are not good or bad, just ordinary people trying to find happiness in their own meddled up lives. The final resolution, if it is any resolution at all, appears a bit forced and dramatic, and this is the place where you see some glimpses of Hollywood. Yet, you feel for the characters who have done nothing much and learnt nothing useful in the two hours of movie duration. They don’t even appear to have learnt that every day is the first day of rest of their lives. They are a lot like us, I suppose.

The First Day of Rest of Your Life was nominated for nine César Awards, a French equivalent of Oscars and also was a runaway hit in France. It is artful enough to deserve those nominations and entertaining enough to be a blockbuster. Now, that’s a rare combination too.