Review: You think your life is rough? Laure Calamy’s struggles are a ‘Full Time’ sprint

A woman in a maid's uniform, speaking on a cellphone and smiling, with her reflection in a mirror.
Laure Calmy in the movie “Full Time.”
(Music Box Films)

A high-speed movie about the grind of responsibility, the French nail-biter “Full Time” paints a working mom’s commuter life in skyline smears, hard-won favors and quick changes of dress and mood. In a performance that rushes by in the gear of stress, all the while leaving potent afterimages with each vexing swerve in her character’s day, Laure Calamy (“Call My Agent!”) contributes an all-timer to the slice-of-life canon — the “Mission: Impossible” of mother tales.

In writer-director Éric Gravel’s thumping narrative — starting with the sound of breathy sleeping, interrupted by an alarm clock — divorced mother of two Julie (Calamy) is having a real tornado of a week. Getting from the suburbs of Paris to the high-end hotel where she toils on a tightly run schedule as head maid is exasperating enough without one more transit strike making hay of her mobility options, not to mention testing the patience of an older kid-sitting neighbor (Geneviève Mnich).

For your safety

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the CDC and local health officials.

Julie also is navigating an upcoming important interview for a better-paying job — a corporate gig closer to a skill set she hasn’t tapped since having to make ends meet. But that’s in another area of the city, requiring its own time-stealing management away from the watchful eyes of her understanding-to-a-point boss (Anne Suarez), and appeals to work colleague goodwill (the other maids’ lives aren’t easy either) alongside the ever-worsening transportation snafus.


And while Julie handles the logistical obstacles and piled-on pressures with warrior-like swiftness and even the occasional forbearing smile, it’s an inherently maddening heroism to be exhilarated by — like watching someone succeed simply by not losing her mind when given every conceivable chance. (There’s also an alimony-owing ex not answering Julie’s calls, as she in turn ignores her bank’s over mortgage payments. And did I mention her young son’s upcoming birthday party?)

“Full Time” is canny enough to understand that many people’s make-do existences are ready-made for compassionate thriller-ization. Gravel, in the heart-stopping vein of Belgium’s social-realism-minded Dardennes brothers, invests his protagonist’s one-challenge-at-a-time needs with the kind of visual intimacy and racing rhythm that makes us feel intensely close to Julie, from first sprint in her dehumanizing day to the exhaling bathtub soak she takes each night. French techno artist Irène Drésel’s percolating electronic score, like Giorgio Moroder sweating through a bender, certainly does its part, as does cinematographer Victor Seguin’s documentary-like viscerality and editor Mathilde Van de Moortel’s versatility with both adrenaline-charged sequences and quieter human moments.

It’s Calamy’s show, though, and in Julie’s gantlet of duties and drags — running, cleaning, cajoling, collapsing, recharging — she brings as much no-nonsense physicality as Keanu Reeves would fending off an array of “John Wick” assassins. (She even finds time to flirt with a helpful neighbor played by Cyril Gueï — and the pocket of joy that creates is thoroughly charming.) Overall, it’s a dazzlingly exterior and interior portrait of supreme capability and grit — what will seem like momentary bravery to some but is more like a granite truth about workforce motherhood. Things get done. “Full Time” is just expertly dramatic packaging on an invisible given.

Wondering if Julie will crack may be the knee-jerk source of tension, but it’s worth remembering that embedded in Gravel’s scenario, in what we hear in the background on TVs and radios, is where things will go the more we push workers to the breaking point: strikes that expand, and protests that can bring a city to its knees. Julie’s having a go at coping without exploding, but there’s a world around her that is fed up, and it’s that macro detail inside this micro character study that shrewdly keeps us from simply enjoying “Full Time” as some nerve-racking one-off in a woman’s life. The movie concludes on a rare moment of stillness and emotion for Julie, but it’s not an ending. It’s just a break.

'Full Time'

In French with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 10, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles