Perhaps I’m just too cynical, but I wanted to like Francois Ozon’s latest film Time to Leave (2005) much more than I actually did. The story focuses Romain (Melvil Poupaud), a 30s-ish photographer who, after collapsing on assignment, is told he has terminal cancer. Declining medical treatment, he has three months to live. What was initially appealing about the story is its refreshing take on the subject: instead of telling everyone he has only months to live, he chooses to keep it a secret, revealing it only to his grandmother, Laura (Jeanne Moreau). This restrained emotion, however, finds its outlet elsewhere—in sappy scenes that reach for easy sentiment and eschew Romain’s complex decision and its consequences.
The film is, essentially, a series of goodbyes. Romain visits his parents, his grandmother, his sister, and his boyfriend, secretly concluding their relationship and setting things straight before he dies. Each scene ends with the same ironic touch: Romain snapping a photograph for keepsakes. His stoicism isn’t so much poignant as it is pitiable. We recognize the futile gesture in taking the photograph, and it pulls at our heart strings, begging us to feel some sort of emotion for this dying character—but does the film really have to try so hard and use (and re-use) such a gesture until it becomes a gimmick?
The best moment of the film is the scene between Romain and his grandmother. When she asks why he chose to only confide in her, he says, “Because you, like me, will be dying soon.” This touch of fatalism is sobering, because it isn’t trying to make us cry or feel nostalgic in any way. Its motivations are unadulterated by sentiment.
As the grandmother, Jeanne Moreau is fantastic. But she’s on-screen for a sparse few minutes. It’s a shame, because hers is a character that intrigues and vies for our attention, something that very few other characters manage to do. Likewise, Marie Rivière, the charming star of Eric Rohmer’s Summer (1986) and Autumn Tale (1998), appears onscreen for only one scene as Romain’s mother, and her character is given no opportunity to grow beyond the periphery of importance. This is the pervasive problem with Time to Leave: the characters are not fleshed out enough to be compelling.
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