A Time to Leave (Le Temps Qui Reste)Thursday 11 May 2006
François Ozon's 'A Time to Leave' ('Le Temps Qui Reste') is the second in the prolific French director's planned trilogy about death and mourning. The first instalment - 2001's 'Under the Sand' ('Sous le Sable') - was about dealing with the unexpected death of a loved one. This time 'round, Ozon focuses on a man trying to come to terms with his own imminent death.
Self-centred Romain (Poupaud) is a young fashion photographer with all the trappings of success - a Parisian apartment, a thriving career and devoted boyfriend, Sasha (Sengewald). None of these make any difference, however, when he collapses during a photo shoot and is subsequently diagnosed with terminal cancer. Refusing treatment, he sets out on a journey from anger and denial to an acceptance of both life and death, but on his own terms.
Romain is not a nice character - he is selfish and egocentric, lashing out at his fragile sister Sophie (Hippeau) and deliberately provoking a separation from Sasha. He seems intent on isolating himself from those who care for him, perhaps in a misguided attempt to avoid causing them pain - or to keep himself from having to say goodbye. The only person to whom he reveals the truth is his grandmother (Moreau) because, as he tells her bluntly, she is also about to die soon. The time he spends with her is the heart of the film as Romain's seldom evident vulnerability is met with compassion and love. There is a similar tenderness and connection in the scenes with waitress Jany (Bruni-Tedeschi) and her husband, with whom he strikes an unusual bargain.
In 'A Time to Leave' Ozon successfully walks the very fine line between sentimentality and emotional detachment, due, in no small way, to Melvil Poupaud's strong yet understated (and physical) performance. Legendary French actress Jeanne Moreau is wonderful as his bohemian grandmother and there is solid support from the rest of the cast in this succinct - a mere 85-minute running time - film. Far more meditative than melodramatic, 'A Time to Leave' ends with a haunting final scene that is a celebration of life in the presence of death. In a word, memorable.