Time to Leave
2005Director: François Ozon
Cast: Melvil Poupaud, Jeanne Moreau, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi
f a glitch in a director’s creative stimulus could be blamed for one’s inactivity, French auteur François Ozon would probably cringe at the thought. Since 1988, Ozon has released an average of at least one movie per year. Yet trying to condense his oeuvre down to a short list of director-characteristic features is nothing short of confounding: Ozon has probably tackled as many genres and styles as there are movies in his catalogue. Michael Winterbottom quickly comes to mind as a prolific match, and if you didn’t know them, you’d surely think they must be creative pals.
Just a year after 5 x 2 and two after Swimming Pool—which, despite not having seen all of Ozon’s films, looks sure to remain a personal favorite for reasons known only to me—Ozon is back with Time to Leave, a movie that is unlikely to stir up more than a decrepit storm at the box office, and one that you will presumably forget by the time Ozon’s next one comes out. It is not the director’s fault for crafting yet another movie out of a bromidic and over-used premise—terminal illness is French for comic-book adaptation—and yet it’s clear that taking a little longer with this one would certainly not have roughed up his creative hunch, while giving us more substantial reasons to want to see this movie instead of, say, Denys Arcand’s similarly terminal illness-themed and superior The Barbarian Invasions. Admittedly, Ozon and Arcand’s films have little in common, but you get my point.
For Ozon, the common-place and the deviant, the erratic and the routine, the scandalous and the monotonous have always co-inhabited a very confined space of existence, often style-shifting over one another within the span of a movie. Much of that is lost in Time to Leave. Instead of spurning narrative cliché, Ozon embraces it. In Romain (Melvil Poupaud), the cancer-stricken homosexual protagonist given three months to live (“but it could be one year, or one month. It’s very unpredictable,” in the words of his doctor), Ozon once again evinces his reticence to conform to the boundaries of mainstream cinema.
So what if Romain is an often-flying, uber-networked glamour photographer, has a live-in boyfriend, who at times looks like a moving and talking version of a Ken doll, and has a family, who, despite all odds, actually loves him. The end result still feels as rushed as it does incomplete. Accomplished stories about dying individuals manage to assume a sense of arresting emotional urgency, a psychological cinch that fully reveals itself only after having lingered in our minds for longer than the five-minute walk from ours seats in the theatre to the exit door. Here is a story that all too soon surrenders to absurdity and conventionality, emotional blandness and self-deprecating lethargy.
Upon learning that he has a malignant form of cancer, the only perceptible hint of emotion that Romain’s otherwise sapless facial expression displays is his quick refusal to undergo chemotherapy. He also refuses to share the news with anyone close to him—including the boyfriend and family—and is unnecessarily hostile towards them. It is an understandably palliative treatment, yet one that asks more questions than Ozon seems willing to try and answer. But a quick visit to his dying grandmother (Jeanne Mourau), which also reveals a disturbing sexual fondness between the two, changes his outlook on the little time he has left. What emerges is a reformed, matured, self-conscious Romain, a change of heart that is as clichéd as calling marble “cold.”
In the quintet of shock, denial, anger, depression, and acceptance, Romain seems to skim through all emotional conditions to finally reach a bland state of self-gratifying emotional illiteracy. Ozon orchestrates all of this disorientation with additional absurdity, and it’s really unfortunate. Everything is tastefully played, seductively choreographed, and gracefully filmed. While the premise hinted at transgression, soft-heartedness, and emotional impingement, what’s filtered through is nothing but art-house tedium.
Time to Leave is currently playing in Europe and opens in limited release in the United States next month.