Le Temps qui Reste

February 7, 2010By Tom RidgwayArchive

This Is the End

The last few months in a young man’s life.

François Ozon’s Le Temps qui Reste (Time to Leave) can be seen as a companion piece to the director’s 2000 film Sous le Sable. Both are meditations on death and loss, but this time Ozon looks at what happens when you know that it’s you who’s going to disappear.

Romaine (Melvil Poupaud) is a successful fashion photographer who discovers that he has a generalized cancer that’s going to kill him and chooses not to go through painful chemotherapy. The film traces his final few months and the choices he makes as he nears the end.

Ozon is perhaps best known internationally for his flamboyant 8 Women, but in fact that film was perhaps the work that resembles him the least. Its parodic campness – with an essentially gay male version of women – was profoundly at odds with the usual Ozon worldview. It was a great piece of fun fluff, but also deeply unsatisfying because as a director (and writer), Ozon is at his best when he is simply watching, not stage-managing. In his such films as the early short Regarde la Mer, Sous le Sable and now Le Temps qui Reste, he is a voyeur with a gentle eye and, sometimes, a cruel heart.

What’s nice about Le Temps qui Reste – which, after all, poses an interesting question: what would you do if you only had a few months to live? – is that Ozon lets the story flow from the central character. It’s almost documentary-like in its viewpoint, and despite its subject matter and short length – under 90 minutes – it feels full of life.

Romaine is not a likable character (he freely admits that he’s “not one of those nice people”), but Ozon’s non-judgmental style allows us to understand him. His reaction to the news of his impending death seems real in its contradictory way. At first, he tells only his grandmother, played by Jeanne Moreau – “because like me, you’re going to die soon” – but he does attempt to comfort those closest to him, without actually telling them.

This approach feels truthful. The news doesn’t profoundly change his behavior, yet it allows him to soften. He contacts his estranged sister (but, in a nice touch, only after she has written to him), dumps his boyfriend to spare him the end, and gives his emotionally stunted father a hug while crying in his arms. By the film’s end, you don’t exactly like Romaine, but you’re somehow happy for him: he’s worked things out to a point that means he can disappear in peace, which is perhaps all that most of us would want.

Le Temps qui Reste is full of trademark Ozon touches. Romaine is visited by visions of himself as a child – always a cherished time in Ozon films – just as Charlotte Rampling was visited by her husband in Sous le Sable; there are moments of unexpected visual and verbal crudity; and the film ends at the beach, a favorite Ozon arena for pain and redemption.

While it may not be Ozon’s strongest film, there’s enough in Le Temps qui Reste to satisfy. Maybe the best thing to do is rent Sous le Sable and then go see Le Temps qui Reste. You’ll probably end up in tears, but then a good cry never did anyone any harm.

Tom Ridgway

© 2005 Paris Update

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