3 stars (out of four)
Francois Ozon's "Time to Leave," a French film of love and death, is an intimate drama about a dying young photographer, Romain, whose glamorous world begins to recede from him when a doctor informs him that he has terminal cancer.
Romain, played by Melvil Poupaud, has a curly haired Adonis appearance. But that look gradually melts into the gaunt, shaven-headed image of a Holocaust survivor as the film shows its main character taking leave of life--of his parents, grandmother, lover and even of casual but important strangers--sometimes rather selfishly, sometimes with surprising self-sacrifice.
Romain refuses to tell his mother (Marie Riviere) and father (Daniel Duval) of his illness, and he lashes out cruelly at his sister, Sophie (Louise-Anne Hippeau). He brusquely dumps his lover, Sasha (Christian Sengewald). But he makes an unusually tender and generous compact with a young waitress named Jany (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi), whom he barely knows. Toward the end, the water-loving Ozon gives us a prototypical image: Romain lying on a beach by the ocean surrounded by sunbathers and swimmers who will leave him in the sand, just as the tide will inevitably come in.
Ozon obviously wants to make us cry with this story. It's his version of classic Hollywood fatal illness pictures such as "Dark Victory," with Bette Davis, or "Terms of Endearment," with Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine. Like most of those big-studio antecedents, "Time to Leave" has a glossy surface, beautiful protagonists and a weepy interior, though Ozon tries to avoid obvious sentimentality (and doesn't always succeed).
The fact that Romain is gay--but that his terminal disease isn't AIDS--gives the movie a slightly melodramatic old-Hollywood touch as well. Like Davis' Judith Traherne in "Dark Victory," Romain is struck down in his youth and beauty by a fatal destiny--and at the same time, he is also haunted by his own boyhood, which keeps appearing, as in "Wild Strawberries," in sudden dreams and fantasies.
Ozon can be a very sarcastic director, as in "Sitcom" (1998), or an acid and moody one, as in his Patricia Highsmith-like thriller "Swimming Pool" (2003), or a melancholy one, as in "Under the Sand" (2001). In "Time to Leave," he tries for absolute sincerity and transparency. Romain isn't an obvious victim. His harshness toward Sasha, whom he throws out of their apartment, hints at cold, manipulative qualities that may have helped his rise as a top photographer. His refusal to confide in his parents suggests even more emotional distance.
Romain's only confidante is that great French diva, actress Jeanne Moreau, who plays Laura, Romain's lusty grandmother. Laura sleeps in the nude and lives a Bohemian life that echoes Moreau's iconic `60s role, Catherine in Francois Truffaut's "Jules and Jim" (a character who also died young). The brief time together of Romain and his grandmere is the film's high point; perhaps Ozon missed a bet in not building the entire film around them.
"Time to Leave" may not have made me cry, but it's affecting nonetheless. So was "Under the Sand," with Charlotte Rampling, which, along with "Time," the director has said, comprise the first two parts of a projected trilogy on death. They also show this cineaste at his most tender and reflective--with Poupaud's Romain perhaps a partly conscious self-portrait of an artist facing destiny, mortality and that vast bright sea around him.
'Time to Leave'
Directed and written by Francois Ozon; photographed by Jeanne Lapoirie; edited by Monica Coleman; set decoration by Katia Wyszkop; music by Valentin Slivestrov; produced by Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonier. A Strand Releasing release; opens Friday at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema. Running time: 1:21. No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for nudity, sensuality, language, themes of death and fatal illness).
Romain - Melvil Poupaud
Laura - Jeanne Moreau
Jany - Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi
The Father - Daniel Duval
The Mother - Marie Riviere
Sasha - Christian Sengewald
Movie review: 'Time to Leave'
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