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TIME OUT (L’Emploi du Temps) (director/writer: Laurent Cantet; screenwriter: Robin Campillo; cinematographer: Pierre Milon; editor: Robin Campillo; music: Jocelyn Pook; cast: Aurélien Recoing (Vincent Renault), Karin Viard (Muriel Renault), Serge Livrozet (Jean-Michel), Jean-Pierre Mangeot (Vincent’s Father), Monique Mangeot (Vincent’s Mother), Nicolas Kalsch (Julien Renault), Marie Cantet (Alice Renault), Félix Cantet (Félix Renault), Christophe Charles (Fred), Nigel Palmer (Jeffrey), Maxime Sassier (Nono), Olivier Lejoubioux (Stan), LaetitiaJamila Abdallah (Fati), Didier Perez (Philippe); Runtime: 132; ThinkFilm; 2001-France, in French with English subtitles)
“Laurent Cantet has created an absorbing masterpiece.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The middle-aged, easy smiling, placid, well-dressed Vincent Renault (Aurélien Recoing) is a financial corporation executive who lost his job and failed to tell this to his picture-perfect family. The family includes: part-time teacher wife Muriel (Karin Viard); eldest teen son Julien (Kalsch); adolescent daughter Alice (Marie Cantet); and, the youngest son, Félix (Félix Cantet). For the last 3 and 1/2 months, Vincent pretends to be still working but instead lives out of his car and contacts his wife periodically by cell phone telling her fictional things about his workday — such as his imaginary appointments, hard to deal with clients and team meetings. This is starting to wear on him, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up the lie. Vincent upgrades to a Range Rover when he scams his friends, as his only pleasure is riding in his car at a leisurely pace in an aimless way around the beautiful snowy landscape of the French Alps. He eats in convenience stores after sleeping at night in his car.

Vincent lives in an unnamed upscale French suburb near Grenoble, which is near the Swiss border. Soon he wanders across the border and enters a corporate UN office building in Geneva that attracts his attention because it looks so proper and pristine. Vincent picks up the company brochures, eavesdrops on office conversations and on a board meeting, and suffers the indignity of getting booted out by the security guard when he sits too long in the lobby observing the visitors. But Vincent manages to learn that the private company is connected with the U.N.’s economic recovery program in Africa — the company appears to be training managers who will go into Africa’s emerging markets. He tells his family he now works in this prestigious workplace, a place whose noble purpose is to help the unfortunates. From his brief observation of the workplace, Vincent invents his management position in the firm and tells his family in great detail about what he does but is vague about other job-related details.

“Time Out” is a gripping psychological drama about the modern psyche and the pressures that exist to work at something that is useless except for the material benefits it provides. It is one man’s meditation on the perils of modern life and its demands, and how he is caught in the trap of materialism. Vincent worked for 11 years in the same firm before he was fired because the company felt he lost his enthusiasm. Vincent tells a stranger that the only thing he liked about work was being alone in his car and driving. Eventually he couldn’t show up to meetings in time as he preferred driving around, and his boss had to let him go.

Not being a con man but in need of quick money, he invents a ‘get-rich-quick’ investment scheme and effortlessly gets his former workplace friends and school acquaintances to trust him blindly by greedily investing in a shady secret bank account in Russia’s emerging market.

The only one who is somewhat suspicious is his adoring wife. She smells something fishy about the new job in Geneva, especially, since she can’t comprehend why he took it without consulting her, and the only phone number he can be reached at is his cell phone. Yet when they converse, he talks about the position with the earnest passion of a man who is genuinely troubled about his workplace problems and is able to deeply touch his wife with his sensitivity and the emotional pain he is experiencing.

His wealthy father is a cynic whom Vincent was never able to please. But his father still lends him enough money to get an apartment in Geneva, telling him that he’s proud that his new job is so prestigious. His Oedipal conflict is passed on to his own children, who share the same guilt he has of not being able to look their father in the eye. Vincent’s children are too self-absorbed with just growing up to care less about what he does for a living, and are happy as long as they continue to live in the upscale style they are accustomed to.

The film successfully drives home the point that it might seem that Vincent lost his mind, but he’s really someone in a bad state because he’s in a limbo period between unnecessary jobs that corporations create for the upper-middle-class to maintain their rich lifestyle. Even when one of Vincent’s more genial former workers and lifetime friend (Sassier) drops out to do what he loves — to make his own studio music — he still can’t let go of the greedy habit that he had when working for the corporation, as he blindly invests in Vincent’s ‘get-rich-without-any-scruples’ scheme.

Overhearing Vincent hustle his friends in the lobby of a hotel, a snake-like businessman, Jean-Michel (Serge Livrozet), spots him as an honest man who out of necessity became a scam artist and persuades Vincent to work in his less risky scam. By working this racket, it gives our hero a chance to return the money he took from his investors and show that he really cares about his friends. Jean-Michel imports fake brand-name items from Poland. He brings back such things as fake Reeboks, which are sold cheaper than the real thing. The director, Laurent Cantet (“Human Resources”), wishes to show how the dishonest Jean-Michel’ con game is still more genuine than those legal corporations, which regularly dupe the public with their fake projects and don’t even give them some kind of product.

The film is overwhelming in large part because of Mr. Recoing’s tour-de-force performance as a sensitive family man in the middle of a mid-life crisis, who is fighting for his life to make sense. Through him, as the ‘everyman,’ we can see how so many careerists get trapped in jobs they hate but see no alternative. It’s a gloomy but penetrating look at modern western civilization, with no forthcoming answers. It’s a relevant film for our times and a subject not taken seriously enough by most filmmakers, yet it is a universal concern — as choosing the right line of work is a problem that everyone could relate to.

Laurent Cantet has created an absorbing masterpiece. It has no time for frivolous melodramatic scenes which would have only taken away attention from Vincent’s real inward dilemma. It’s a rare human drama that is politically and psychologically motivated, yet in its unpredictability it succeeds without giving voice to conventional dogmas. The film’s ending is not a happy one, but a confirmation that once you start lying to yourself there’s no cure — lying will only become a permanent part of your life — it will lead to a more strenuous life. Vincent’s lies will probably lead him down a path of inevitable disasters and future heart attacks. No wonder the film is so bleak, enigmatic and hardly reassuring, as it follows around this dull company man who is now without a company and who is given to escapist fantasies. He is someone we feel sorry for and maybe are thrilled by the strangeness of his everyday experiences!

Time Out was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival. It should also be noted that the great stage actor Aurélien Recoing and the film actress Karin Viard were the only professionals in the cast.

REVIEWED ON 6/28/2002 GRADE: A +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”