Time to Leave

December 19th, 2006 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Directed by Franois Ozon

Starring Melvil Poupard, Jeanne Moreau

Whether it’s in English or a European language, you can always tell a European film. For a continent of people famous for expressing themselves vociferously with their hands, the European — and particularly French — acting style is understated and at times very hard to read from visual cues.

By contrast, American movies come from a culture where actions speak louder than words, where the sight of a gun wins a rock-paper-scissors game over intellect any day.

European films also make you realise how 90% of our cinema consumption is in the American language. No, not English, that unique American film sensibility that comes from a comparatively small group of practitioners but is broadcast to every corner of the world and has become the default cinema style.

An American film will have glaring identifiers. Not because Americans are stupid, but because they like their movies to tell us exactly how to fell about a character or situation. In an American movie the hero we’re supposed to identify with will give a little kid a toy, beat up a thug not giving his seat to an old lady or have a devoted wife he’s completely faithful to minutes into the film.

In French movies — as in Time To Leave ? the hero can be caustic, self-absorbed, cruel to family members and very hard to like. Try to imagine the last time you saw the hero of an American movie smoking…

Romain (Poupard) is a full-of-himself fashion photographer who gets the last shock of his life when he collapses at work and tests reveal he has cancer that will take him in mere months.

Romain’s journey is neither clear-cut nor easily explained from then on. He doesn’t tell anyone his fate except his caring grandmother, revelling in contempt for his sister and everything she represents to him, suddenly telling his boyfriend he doesn’t love him and wants him to move out and generally cutting everything off.

And everywhere around him, he’s seeing visions of the scrawny, curly-haired kid he once was. It’s as if Romain is trying to reconnect to his past at the expense of the present he doesn’t want to deal with, a present with nothing left in it — by his own doing as well as cancer.

Ironically, the only connection he makes is with the beautiful waitress he befriends at a diner and her husband. When they approach him nervously to ask if he’ll give her the baby her infertile husband can’t, he not only agrees but leaves everything he has to the unborn child he’ll never know.

And all the while he takes pictures of the tenderness and intimacy around him with a digital camera, jealously cut off from it but with neither the character nor the time left to engage himself in it.

The inevitable resolution gives the film a sense of quiet doom, one director Francois (5×2) Ozon restrains with languid performances and pacing, but where we feel we should have in insight into Romain’s motivations at the end.

He remains an enigma, the disconnection from everyone going too far and disconnecting him from the audience as well. As such it’s hard to rustle up any real feelings for him — sympathetic or otherwise, and you can’t help wondering if the story could have been better told with someone more deserving of our sympathy.

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