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Closing doors
A region 2 DVD review of TIME TO LEAVE / LE TEMPS QUI RESTE by Slarek
 

I have for some time been a fan of the cinema of François Ozon and it's only by accident of chance that I've not covered one of his films here before. Then again, I still find it difficult to actually define just what it is that defines an Ozon film. I passionately defended his first full length feature, the 1998 Sitcom, against an unfairly hostile reaction from some at our cinema screening (as many others loved it, I should add). I retrospectively discovered his sometimes delightful short films, was caught thoroughly on the hop by the climax of Water Drops on Burning Rocks, was wide-eyed with joyful disbelief at the song-and-dance madness of 8 Women (and once again found myself defending an Ozon film in the face of some audience hostility), and was gripped by his Charlotte Rampling double, Under the Beach and Swimming Pool. I've criminally failed yet to catch the highly regarded 5x2.

In spite of all this, Time to Leave [Le Temps qui reste] caught me completely off-guard. The story centres around Romain, a successful 30-year-old fashion photographer who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only a few months to live. And before you try to second guess where events will take us next, you should know that this is not a film about disease or suffering or the pain of loss, but how one man comes to terms, in his own very particular way, with impending and premature death.

The first thing that strikes you is the economy of Ozon's storytelling. The film opens on preparations for a rooftop photo shoot, and Romain's job, his status, and even elements of his personality are established in a matter of seconds. Moments later, seemingly overwhelmed by the sunlight, he collapses. Cut straight to the diagnosis, and it's bad news. "Is it AIDS?" he anxiously asks the doctor. When it isn't there is clear relief – he's ready for anything after that. With just that one, three-word question, Ozon suggests Romain's sexual preferences – old fears die hard and the legacy of the 80s lingers on. The doctor comes clean over the odds of survival – which are small – but Romain is young and with treatment the doc believes he might, just might, be able to fight it. Romain is not convinced and refuses medical help. As he sits outside contemplating the devastating change his life has suddenly taken, we are just five minutes into the film. You begin to get a flavour for just how much Ozon can very comfortably fit into the 85 minute running time.

Coping with terminal illness may not be exactly new cinematic territory, but Ozon's approach differs markedly from the norm by way of his central character and his very individualistic reaction to the illness. His first tears are shed alone, and far from seeking the comfort and family and friends, he immediately sets about shutting them out. After making heated love to his boyfriend, he then breaks up with him, and at a dinner with his family he leaves his sister in tears and his parents confused. You keep expecting him to come clean to them about his condition, to engage their sympathy and share his burden, but he never does. The only person he does tell (and this happens before we arrive at the scene, side-stepping a moment that most such stories would revel in) is his grandmother, played by the wonderful Jeanne Moreau. When she asks why he has told her, he replies with almost cruel directness, "Because you're like me, you'll be dying soon."

On paper this casts Romain as both selfish and uncaring, but his purpose is not to deliberately hurt those around him, but to put them at a distance, to isolate himself in order that he may be allowed to die quietly on his own terms, without fuss or fanfare. As played by Melvil Poupaud, he is immediately intriguing and becomes increasingly sympathetic, his situation all too easy to empathise with. Gradually the cool front he has put up begins to falter, with even his confrontations with those close to him peppered with moments of extraordinary tenderness, from a goodbye said to his father to a phone call made to his sister to patch up the rift between them, two pitch-perfect moments that pack an extraordinary emotional wallop. This is not the false sentimentality of Hollywood tear-jerkers, but a genuine and complete bond with Romain and his fate. It thus makes sense that the film sprung from Ozon's own speculations on how he might spend his final days when he was awaiting a potentially serious diagnosis (he, unlike Romain, was given the all clear).

It would be a hard-hearted person that would not be moved by Romain's subsequent journey towards the inevitable. The combination of Poupaud's sensitive performance and Ozon's unfussy but precise direction make this an utterly believable and sometimes heart-rending experience. Even when the story looks to be taking a contrived or more obvious turn – an unusual request made by a café waitress (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), Romain's memories of his childhood – the scenes are so well handled and their integration into the story so effective that you soon feel foolish for even momentarily questioning the decision to include them.

Doubtless there are those who will allow their prejudices to prevent them from even seeing, let alone engaging with the central character (to be honest, if you have a bigotry check list you're not even going to sit down for this one), and as far as I'm concerned it's their loss. Time to Leave (and oh is that title well chosen) avoids the emotional histrionics, over-sentimentalising and false dignity so often associated with such stories, and yet it tears at the heart without ever being depressing or even particularly downbeat. Ozon demonstrates that if you care, really care about your lead character, however he may behave to others, then you can tell a story that is both warmly life affirming and tragic at one and the same time. Nowhere is this more evident than in the quietly overpowering final scene, which I freely admit had tears running down my face. There's no two ways about it – Time to Leave is without question one of the most profoundly moving and beautifully realised films I have seen in years.

sound and vision

Framed 2.35:1 and anamorphically enhanced, this is a superb transfer in every respect – colour, detail and contrast are close to reference quality, and although some minor compression artefacts are just visible in some of the darker scenes, you'd have to be looking for faults to be even remotely bothered by them.

There are two soundtracks available, Dolby 2.0 surround and 5.1 surround. To be honest there's not much to choose between them – the mix is a subtle as the film itself and the sound quality always first rate, especially in the reproduction of the lovely, melancholic score.

extra features

In the Interview with François Ozon (21:00), the director talks about the genesis of the film, the central character, the editing, the cutting of scenes for a more minimal approach, his filming technique, and more. He covers the casting and working with the actors in some detail, and expresses a belief in the importance of accidental discoveries and a reluctance to plan his shots in advance of the actual shoot.

The Making Of Documentary (76:07) was partly responsible for the late completion and posting of this review – so wrapped up did I become in the drama that it was a good three days before I was ready to see it deconstructed as a technical process. When you are up for it, though, this is a substantial extra feature, running for almost as long as the film itself. Invaluable for showing Ozon at work and useful for detailing the process of preparation and filming, it is allowed to ramble a little but is always interesting and is peppered with intriguing behind-the-scenes moments, notably some insecurity and crew concern surrounding actor Christian Sengewald, who plays Romain's lover Sasha. Jeanne Moreau provides a short voice-over interview on working with Ozon, whom she later gives a neck massage to when the pressure gets too much.

One point of interest thrown up but not answered by this documentary involves a night club fisting scene, whose detailed preparation may seem like overkill for the brief and only suggestive sequence that appears in the final film, or at least the version seen here. The completed scene is both longer and more explicit than the one in the UK cut. According to the BBFC web site no cuts were made to either the cinema or DVD release of the film, suggesting that this version was prepared specifically for the UK market, or was recut before the final release.

There are number of Deleted Scenes (18:18), and they are not the usual timecoded video copies, but complete sequences, scored and edited and of similar quality to the feature (though non-anamorphic). All are interesting, and there's quite a bit more childhood stuff here.

The original French Trailer (1:43) is subtitled in English and ut to Lou Reed's Perfect Day, which isn't in the film.

Finally there are Filmographies for Melvil Poupard, Jeanne Moreau, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and François Ozon.

summary

As I said above, Time to Leave caught me by surprise, in part because I watched it without knowing the plot, but mainly because even with a few Ozon films under my belt I was not ready for how affected I would be by this gorgeously handled story. I cannot be objective here – I loved every beautiful moment of this remarkable film.

Artificial Eye's DVD really is excellent, with a superb transfer and almost two hours worth of quality extra features (discs that masquerade as a 'special edition' with only trailer and a 20 minute interview take note) – even the menus are impressively done. Very highly recommended.

Time to Leave
Le Temps qui reste

France 2005
85 mins
director
François Ozon
starring
Melvil Poupaud
Jeanne Moreau
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
Daniel Duval
Marie Riviere
Christian Sengewald

DVD details
region 2
video
2.35:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby surround 2.0
Dolby surround 5.1
languages
French
subtitles
English
extras
Interview with François Ozon
Making-of documentary
Deleted scenes
Trailer
Filmographies
distributor
Artificial Eye
release date
6 October 2006
review posted
25 September 2006

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