Reviewed by Lee Hill
I Got Life! is a deceptively slight film about the shifting moods and epiphanies one experiences in middle age. Having just turned 50, Aurore (Agnès Jaoui), a divorcee with two daughters living in La Rochelle, France, is hit not just by the onset of early menopause, but an omnipresent sense of how quickly youthful energy and potential can dissipate in mid-life.
After walking out of a waitressing job, Aurore is anxious, but proactive as she embarks on her next step. She gets leads from eccentric counsellors at her local Job Centre, provides counsel (and cautionary advice) to her daughters, and explores whether she can have a second chance at love. On that last front, the chief complication is the appearance of Doctor Totoche (Thibault De Montalembert), her boyfriend from her lycee days, who has moved back to town. When she was barely out of her teens, Aurore and Totoche thought their love would last forever, until of course it didn’t. Totoche went on to medical school after his national military service and Aurore married the slightly geeky man, who became the father of her children and her partner in a small business. She and her former spouse remain on good terms even if he is now married to a younger woman and become the stay-at-home Dad of a new brood of children.
I Got Life! mainly passes the Bechdel Test in that the drama and dialogue revolves around issues that women feel more comfortable talking about with other women. However, you could argue that the topics of concern – health, aging, regret, worrying about one’s children, job satisfaction, love and finances – are not solely the concerns of women. And it is nice to see Lenoir and her co-writer, Jean-Luc Gaget push the story forward with vignettes where the behaviour of men and women is not shaped by a need to win an Op-Ed page debate.
Pascale Arbillot as Mano, Aurore’s best friend, for example, shows up at house viewings as a prospective buyer to add serendipity to her love life. Aurore gets a polite, but eloquent lesson on “intersectionality” from an immigrant co-worker, who was once a civil engineer, but now works as an office cleaner. Aurore’s oldest daughter, who is pregnant, is given to priggish assessments of her mother’s “wild” life. And refreshingly, a woman in her 70s that Aurore meets at a community gathering, turns out to be the ultimate optimist and transgressor of social expectations.
I Got Life!’s revelations are not earth shattering, but its depiction of life for women (and men) of a certain age feels like one most viewers can relate to. It’s a glimpse of working and middle-class life that is neither grimly realistic or a smug celebration of status seeking and consumption. As a director, Blandine Lenoir has a gift for small, but insightful details that show ordinary people of various backgrounds facing the struggles of the day, but retaining a core of optimism and humour.
While Lenoir’s film may lack the authorial rigour one associates with directors like Diane Kurys, Catherine Breillat or even the work by Jaoui, best known to English audiences for writing and directing as well as acting in droll comedies like The Taste of Others and Look at the Rain, she avoids the pitfalls that often cripple English directors exploring similar terrain. There is nothing patronising or simplistic about Aurore’s journey into her fifties. If the film looks like the kind of fare one sees on a rainy afternoon when nothing else is playing, there is enough dissonance and spontaneity beneath the cheery exteriors of its main characters to make one, like Aurore, stop and take stock before moving on.
Director: Blandine Lenoir
Writers: Blandine Lenoir and Jean-Luc Gaget
Stars: Agnès Jaoui, Thibault De Montalembert, Pascale Arbillot
I Got Life in in cinemas from Friday 23rd of March