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Time Out (Laurent Cantet) 2002

 

   Time Out, the fascinating new film from French director Laurent Cantet plays out like one long, slowly dawning realization of the truth. The movie opens with a shot that has thematic resonance that is applicable throughout the film. From the interior of a car, the condensation on the windshield gradually fades away, revealing a better picture of the landscape outside. Itís a competent visual metaphor for the psyche of Vincent (Aurelien Recoing), the out-of-work family man at the filmís center, and Cantet repeats it several times before the picture ends. Early on, the filmís structure leaves the audience unsure whether the editing is simply elliptical or if the protagonist is out of work. We never see Vincent working, but he talks ceaselessly about his business meetings to his friends and family. Before long, however, his unemployment becomes apparent, though not until Cantetís approach allows us to understand how people can and want to believe the appearance of productivity Vincent projects.

 

    Because Cantet tells the film so determinedly from Vincentís point of view, his gradual remove from society becomes alienating as the film wears on. There is certainly a degree of sadness in his regression, but the decisions that he makes leaves the audience uncomfortable with his behavior. We canít deny him his desire to be freed from the daily grind, but at the same time, itís hard to endorse his scheming and overspending. There seem to be those that arenít really cut out for the demands of the 9 to 5 workday, and Vincentís one of those people, to be sure, but one must question if that alone justifies him bilking his father and friends out of money. His deep-rooted shame about his unemployment shows that he realizes how little room our society has for those who donít want to contribute in an orthodox way (though this shame doesnít stop him from haughtily bristling when offered an illegal position). Itís particularly interesting that the money making scheme Vincent concocts relies on others sharing his desire to be freed from working. Vincent seems to be an intruder in the working world, subverting it from within. He still dresses as a businessman and when he stows away for elevator rides, listening to small talk, it seems heís a spy, infiltrating a foreign land and stealing secrets.

 

    The gray landscapes that dominate Time Out reflect Vincentís melancholy outlook. Even his brief bursts of freedom from his obligations seem tinged by the looming skyís reminder of them. Occupational and fiscal realities seem almost as much a cinematic taboo as anything of a sexual or violent nature, and Cantetís willingness to face them head-on here is nothing less than admirable. Most people define themselves, to a great extent, by the work they do, yet so many films treat their protagonistsí occupations as trivial bits of their background or plot devices. By looking unsentimentally at Vincentís situation, Time Out becomes a character study that manages to touch the sensitive nerve of some larger social issues. Recoingís fantastic performance doesnít exactly reveal what makes Vincent tick, but perhaps because of our vastly different perceptions of the working world, any definitive explanation for it would have felt like a cheat. 

* * * 

04/10/02 

Jeremy Heilman