“Don’t expect me to be perfect.”
Laurent Cantet is a 31-year old film director born in Germany but working in France who has co-written as well as directed three feature films since 1998. The first of them to receive any significant level of attention was 1999’s Ressources humaines, an interesting portrait of family relations as affected by the introduction of the 35-hour work week in Europe. His subsequent film was last year’s L’Emploi du temps (known internationally as Time Out) — a title that gained considerable recognition at the Venice Film Festival and Montreal’s New Cinema Festival. Seville Pictures have now made the film available on DVD in Canada.
Vincent is a busy man. His work keeps him on the road frequently, going to meetings, making business contacts, calling his wife to let her know he’ll be late. Or so it seems. The truth is that Vincent is a man without a job, having been fired from his previous position due to missed meetings and general lack of commitment. Too proud to admit this to his family, Vincent pretends that he has merely taken on a new job with the United Nations in Geneva. He claims to maintain a small apartment there to live in, as Geneva is too far from home to commute. In fact, he spends his days driving around, loitering in the foyers of office buildings, and often sleeping in his car at night. To finance all this, he pretends to have a lucrative investment opportunity in eastern Europe which he is able to persuade his friends and parents to invest their cash in. Vincent’s wife, Muriel, gradually becomes suspicious of Vincent’s actions and when friends start to ask about their investments, Vincent realizes that his elaborate web of deceit is threatening to collapse.
Time Out is one of those films that creeps up on you gradually and eventually becomes completely absorbing, not because it immerses you in an unfamiliar and personally unlikely situation, but because of the exact opposite. Vincent is a man with a family with which many can identify — an adoring and trusting wife, three normal children with one of them at a rebellious stage, and parents who care, though perhaps too much. But rather than take strength from such a support group when he loses his job, his pride (aroused by societal pressure to be always successful, not to mention a desire to not be diminished in his family’s eyes) causes him to cover the loss up and begin his elaborate hoax. The glimpse that director Cantet affords us of how such a hoax might proceed is compelling indeed because I imagine more people than would like to admit have been in the same situation and may even have briefly wondered about going down the same path that Vincent does.
The manner in which Cantet has constructed his story is one of the film’s real strengths. Once the major decision has been made, each step that Cantet has Vincent take seems like a minor one, yet the accumulated impact is crushing, with Vincent appearing more and more to be on a merry-go-round that is spinning out of control. When he finds it necessary to become involved with Jean-Michel in an importing business of questionable legality, we know it is only a matter of time until Vincent is found out. And of course he is, but there is no pat resolution. The way Cantet ends the film is sadly realistic. (Viewers may be interested to know that the story was inspired by the story of a real-life individual named Jean-Claude Romand who pretended to work for the World Health Organization for 18 years before being found out, with violent results.)
Aurélien Recoing’s playing of the lead role is deceptively complex. His Vincent is externally a comfortable, somewhat rumpled everyman, frequently with a bemused half-smile on his face. The half-smile makes us realize that Vincent is actually energized by his deceptions at first. Every so often, though, Recoing allows a troubled frown, or a glance that doesn’t quite meet the eye, that betrays the inner turmoil and stress that his choices have imposed on him. As though realizing this, Recoing tries to control these mannerisms by increasingly assuming a bland mask of indifference on his face as Vincent’s difficulties mount. The result is that we sense a growing pressure waiting to explode in Vincent that adds tension to every scene during the last third of the film. Heightening the impact of Vincent’s deception is the relative normalcy of all the rest of the characters as portrayed by an accomplished group of players, many of whom are not professional actors (a characteristic of director Cantet’s films). Particularly effective are Karin Viard as Vincent’s wife, Muriel; Jean-Pierre Mangeot as Vincent’s father; and Serge Livrozet as Jean-Michel.
Seville presents the film on DVD in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that manages to convey quite a film-like nature. There is no suggestion of digital sharpening that results in annoying edge enhancement or the like. The image does look a little shadowy at times with some loss of detail, but my sense is that this reflects the intention of the director.
The audio is a French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. This is a dialogue-driven film and the mix delivers the dialogue clearly; there is little engagement of the surrounds. The surround mix really only comes into its own, although subtly, with the occasional background music that hauntingly punctuates Vincent’s actions, particularly in the second half of the film. A French Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track and optional English subtitles are also provided.
The supplements consist of trailers for three other Seville DVD releases (In The Mood For Love, Love Street, Pandaemonium). The case implies the presence of a theatrical trailer for Time Out, but I couldn’t find it.
Time Out is a film that develops a picture of normalcy into a fine suspense thriller (though definitely not of the “blowed-up-real-good” type). The effectiveness lies in the many recognizable, everyday situations that the lead character must deal with at the same time that he is sinking deeper into the web of deception that he has built up. Aurélien Recoing anchors the film with a very fine performance in the lead role. Seville’s DVD is an above-average transfer in terms of conveying a very film-like feeling; however, supplementary content is disappointing. Nevertheless, this rates a solid recommendation.