Time Out (L'emploi Du Temps)
2001, PG-13, 134 min. Directed by Laurent Cantet. Starring Aurelien Recoing, Karin Viard, Serge Livrozet, Jean-Pierre Mangeot, Nicolas Kalsch.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., June 28, 2002
Quaffing coffee and clutching his cell phone, French salaryman Vincent (Recoing) rattles off his plans for the day to wife Muriel (Viard): meeting after meeting, late into the night, and “a restructuring plan to organize.” In reality, Vincent, unshaven and sweater-clad, spends his day sleeping in his car, driving around aimlessly in the fog, and singing along to Europop on the radio. Not only is Vincent not on the job, he doesn't have a job, having been fired from his midlevel executive position months ago. Yet he returns home to his family of four in a business suit and overcoat, even hinting about a new position. Inevitably, the lies snowball: Vincent claims to work across the Swiss border, managing development projects in Africa; his friends begin forking out francs for a phony investment scheme. All the while, Vincent's exhausting charade drives a wedge between him and his family. The story of Time Out is loosely based around the real-life misadventures of Jean-Claude Romand, who concocted a career as a physician and eventually murdered his wife and children. But director and co-scripter Cantet turns this tabloid-fodder scenario into a modulated, keenly insightful psychodrama with an absolute hammerlock on the ennui and isolation of joblessness. Vincent's problem is a problem we all share: terminal ambivalence. Work is meaningless and boring, but so is the lack of it. The film's dramatic pitch -- quiet and moody -- is picture-perfect, offering no easy solution to Vincent's dilemma. In the hands of a Hollywood director, this would be a slap-happy farce (or worse, a by-the-numbers suspense film about Vincent's forays into crime). Rather, Cantet's pacing is slow and slack; no doubt, some audiences will find the film overlong. But it makes sense for Vincent to drift aimlessly, wandering the hermetically sealed halls of a modern Geneva office building and loitering in the lounge of a generic Grenoble hotel, in drawn-out scenes that depict the emptiness of his life. The deliberate pace also lets Recoing shine. With his receding hairline and quietly expressive face, Recoing has a Kevin Spacey quality, minus the snark. He's as much a flop at being a phony as he is at being real. Viard complements him with her understated brittleness as we watch the deterioration of their relationship, beat by beat. Overall, these touches don't always make Time Out a pleasant film to watch, but it is faultlessly truthful in its observations.