Review: Time To Leave
So: I will freely admit that it’s grotesquely unfair to say this, but having spent the least few months plowing through all five seasons of Six Feet Under on DVD, the similarly themed Time To Leave came off as a bit of a disappointment. I can't deny that it's an advantage in TV's favor to have dozens of hours of screen-time in which to develop one’s themes and characters, and years of real-time in which to build a connection to the audience; but I was surprised by how emotionally distant I was from the film, despite my conscious attempts to identify with the lead, Romain, a young photographer (played by Melvil Poupaud) who learns that he is suffering from malignant and inoperable cancer. Romain, it bears noting, is (like SFU’s Nate Fisher) a nearly irredeemable asshole, but the film unsurprisingly challenges you to sympathize with him nonetheless. Writer/director Ozon stops short – but just barely -- of an entirely clichéd “redemption” arc, but there’s an infuriating overreliance on childhood imagery that seeks to wring an emotional connection out of the audience based on the character’s past innocence, though you continue to watch him badly mistreat others as an adult who should know better. It’s a tricky line to straddle, and in certain scenes the film manages to pull it off – most notably, when Romain visits his grandmother, played with typically French zest by Jeanne Moreau, the only other human being he seems able to open himself to (for, of course, selfish and vaguely repellent reasons). But an entire subplot featuring the admittedly compelling Valerie Bruni-Tedeschi (who embodies a kind of continental Gillian Anderson vibe) as a waitress who solicits Romain to father a child for her doesn’t provide much insight into Romain’s character, beyond a certain impishness and callousness (it’s difficult to describe what I mean here without spoilers, so I’m forced to leave this somewhat undeveloped) that we could already intuit was there.
There’s also an… “homage” is perhaps a generous word… to Visconti’s adaptation of Death In Venice that leaves something to be desired in the originality sweepstakes; and when coupled with the frustrating sentimentalism of the repeated childhood motif and a handful of other stock moments -- in particular, Romain’s last encounter with his sister -- the film winds up feeling insufficiently imaginative. The only other Ozon movie I’ve seen is 8 Women, and if there’s one thing that can be said for that film, it’s that it is unique; but Time To Leave’s occasional blandness begged me to make the ultimately unfavorable comparison with SFU that admittedly may have prevented me from giving it more of a fair shake. It’s far from a bad film, but it’s not the quietly wrenching gem that seems to have been intended.