Time to Leave
Not rated, 85 min. Directed by François Ozon. Starring Melvil Poupaud, Jeanne Moreau, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Daniel Duval, Marie Rivière.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Sept. 22, 2006
This oddly dispassionate film about a young man dying of cancer is the French antidote to those Hollywood weepies in which the heroine courageously faces her own mortality with every hair in place. In dealing with the prospect of his imminent death, the self-absorbed fashion photographer Romain in Time to Leave is not so much brave as he is masochistic – he seems to perversely relish the idea of dying alone. For him, an untimely death is his moral destiny; it’s as if he views his illness as a fitting punishment for the shallow existence he’s led. (At one point, he admits to a complete stranger that he is not a “nice person,” an understatement to say the least.) For reasons that can only be attributable to the need for a plot device, Romain refuses to undergo chemotherapy treatment and, more inexplicably, decides not to tell either the members of his family (with one exception) or his lover about his terminal illness. Director Ozon (Under the Sand, 8 Women) may view Romain’s actions as romantic in the great tradition of those dying movie heroines who smiled to the bitter end, but modern audiences are more likely to find the character’s behavior to be extremely frustrating, undercutting any sympathetic response one might have for his situation. (Even the visual references to Romain’s inner child fail to evoke any real emotional reaction to what he is experiencing.) The minimalist style and measured pacing that Ozon adopts here work well aesthetically, but in the end, they ultimately add to the frustration level, as Romain slowly and purposely closes the last chapter of his life. It’s enough to make you long for Bette Davis gamely ascending that staircase in Dark Victory for the last time, her eyesight dimming as the brain tumor does its final work and Max Steiner’s overpowering score swells to a crescendo that is the equivalent to an aural orgasm. Now that was a death scene. AFS@Dobie