Time To Leave (Le Temps Qui Reste) Review

With films like 5x2, chronicling the break-up of a marriage, and Under The Sand, dealing with a woman who has to come to terms with the loss of her husband, Ozon has already demonstrated that he can handle difficult emotional material very well, with force, with authority and with a subtlety that belies his relative youth and inexperience. Le Temps Qui Reste likewise handles a difficult and emotive subject with great precision and sensitivity – the realisation by a young man that he has cancer and only three months left to live.

Romain (Melvil Poupaud) is a 31 year old fashion photographer, and the news that he hasn’t long to live inevitably comes as a shock. His doctor recommends treatment and chemotherapy, since there is a slim chance that he will survive, but Romain is reluctant considering the advanced stage of the tumour. He wants to continue to live as normally as possible in the time that he has left, without anyone knowing about his illness. He takes this time he has left (which is the meaning of the original French title - Le Temps Qui Reste, not “Time To Leave”) to sort out some affairs and straighten out issues with his family – an over-protective mother (Marie Rivière), a distant father (Daniel Duval) and a sister (Louise-Anne Hippeau) he no longer gets on with – even if it means telling them things they don’t want to hear. He also feels it is time to make a clean sweep with his boyfriend Sasha (Christian Sengewald). His brutal honesty with them however could be attributable to Romain trying to emotionally distance them and him from the inevitable separation that is to occur, or it could just be anger he feels over what is happening to him.

Judged purely in terms of structure, content and approach, Le Temps Qui Reste is an exceptionally well-made film and quite impressively handled by the director. Ozon finds unusual ways to present the various stages of denial, anger and final acceptance of his fate that Romain must go through, evoking his emotional journey as an attempt to return to the innocence of his childhood. Each of the people he revisits for the last time and captures on his camera takes him a few steps further down the road he needs to travel. Some of these episodes are very effective – the simple childhood memory of a finding a dying rabbit in woods, and his father telling him that “it’s the way of nature”, says as much about his relationship with his taciturn father as it does about the coming to terms with his impending death. All of the relationships with family and lovers have a ring of authenticity about them – particularly the episode where he confesses his illness to his grandmother (Jeanne Moreau), the person best placed to understand his condition as a person close to death herself. Only one episode fails to convince - the meeting with a waitress in a café (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and the unusual request she makes of him – the whole affair appearing a little bit calculated to meet the film’s predefined structure.

That structure is not necessarily a traditional cinematic one, as much as it feels like one that is adhering to a familiar emotional trajectory that Ozon has explored in previous films. The backward journey that Romain makes towards his childhood recalls the reverse technique used so effectively in 5x2, as do some of the family situations (the fathering of a child is again the central incident that the film revolves around) and characters it is difficult to actually like. The whole journey of coming to terms with bereavement – even if it is one’s own – closely mirrors the tenor and scope of Charlotte Rampling’s journey in Under The Sand, particularly the similarity in the location where the characters achieve their acceptance of their situation. In addition to the finesse displayed in the writing, direction and storytelling, Ozon yet again demonstrates that he is an excellent director of actors, obtaining fine performances from all of the cast. Popaud in particular is outstanding, powerfully conveying the competing emotions as well as the physical suffering and mental turmoil his character has to endure. It’s a convincing performance and a fine direction that achieves the full impact of the material without ever resorting to the standard representations and tear-jerking sentimentality of dealing with illness that could be found in more manipulative Hollywood films.

It must be said however that at least those film have a purpose, even if it is just to manipulate the audience, while Ozon’s intent is much more difficult to grasp. There is no doubting the skill with which Ozon has already demonstrated how well he can handle this kind of highly emotive material, and he does so again here in Time To Leave - but little of it feels new. Certainly with Romain’s homosexuality – his initial fear is that he is dying of AIDS – there may be some intent on the director’s part to examine the outlook of other young men who have had to deal with a serious illness and death before their time. But while there is no denying the skill with which the director depicts the events in the film, there feels little sense of personal involvement in the film and it feels more like an academic exercise to show just how well he can do it. Based on his past work, that is something that Ozon doesn’t really need to prove.

Time To Leave is released in the UK by Artificial Eye. The DVD is in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.

The film looks very well on this UK DVD edition. There is a slight level of grain and a tendency to soften a little on wide shots, but otherwise the print has beautiful warm tones with subtle definition in colours and skin tones. Black levels are strong and there is reasonable but not exceptional shadow detail. The only real problem with the transfer is the amount of flickering caused by macro-compression, causing blocking artefacts which are quite noticeable in backgrounds. This was more noticeable however on a progressive display than on a television with a tube display.

The film comes with a choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. Both are excellent and, since most of the sound is mixed towards the front, there is little real difference between them. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix however has a little more warmth and subtlety that seems to serve the film better.

English subtitles are provided in a clear, white font and are optional.

Interview with François Ozon (21:00)
As if to counter my minor misgivings about the film, Ozon, interviewed in English, relates how the film was inspired by a personal situation and that his challenge here was to make a film from a male perspective, one that is moreover initially unsympathetic. Ozon also talks about how the film was developed, how it worked with actors, refining and editing the script and the filmed scenes to make the film less explanatory.

Making of Time To Leave (1:16:07)
Just as long as the film itself, the Making of is quite comprehensive, covering the preparation and filming of all the main scenes in the film. Ozon is seen as being very hands-on, working with the actors and allowing them to contribute as much as possible to the script and the characterisation – giving Jeanne Moreau in particular a great deal of freedom. I don’t normally like features like this, particularly ones that go on so long, but this really gets behind the scenes into the ins-and-outs of the production. It’s filmed very naturalistically, but well-edited and put together. Despite its length, it never becomes repetitive and remains interesting all the way through.

Deleted Scenes (18:17)
Eight deleted scenes are included, a lot of them involving childhood reminiscences, and they are all quite interesting. None of them would be out of place in the film.

Trailer (1:43)
The trailer uses an effective montage of scenes from the film, but the use of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ doesn’t seem to fit.

Filmographies are included for Melvil Poupaud, Jeanne Moreau, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and François Ozon. Moreau’s filmography is particularly impressive – Truffaut, Godard, Welles, Antonioni, Duras, Renoir, Téchiné, Malle, Fassbinder, Losey, Buñuel, Kazan, Angelopolous and Wenders to name just a few of the great directors she has worked with.

Following the course of a young man coming to terms with an untimely death from cancer might not sound like a particularly appealing subject, particularly as the outcome and treatment of it in other films is usually so predictable, but Time To Leave avoids the worst trappings of the material, finding a strong and sure balance between grim realism and tearful drama. As the second part of a trilogy of films the director is planning to make about death and bereavement, Time To Leave impresses yet again with the skill and sensitivity with which François Ozon is able to deal with such material, but this has already been demonstrated in Under The Sand. For a director whose work has so far been characterised by a greater variety of tones and moods, there is little here that we haven’t already seen Ozon do before. Artificial Eye’s presentation of the film on DVD is excellent however, with fine extra features that are quite illuminating on the working methods of one of France’s more interesting new, young directors.

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