- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

Filmmakers are loath to acknowledge that the workplace or the need to make a living are interesting on-screen unless someone does dangerous or glamorous work.

Sooner or later someone was bound to notice a neglected subject.

The French director Laurent Cantet made a striking feature debut in 1999 with "Human Resources," which examined the conflicts aroused when a young man accepts a management job at a struggling factory where his father is an aging member of the workforce.

Mr. Cantet has sharpened and extended his outlook in an absorbing second feature, "Time Out," booked locally at Visions Cinema in the Dupont Circle area. "Time Out" focuses on the double life of a family man named Vincent (Aurelien Recoing), who has lost his job as a consultant several weeks before we encounter him as a desperately busy hoaxster. Vincent pretends to be gainfully employed while spending weekdays in charades of job-hunting and tentative, shameful hustling as a shady investor across the border in Switzerland.

As the movie unfolds, we're drawn into the suspense of Vincent's deception. Sooner or later, he must admit to his wife, Muriel (Karin Viard), and other family members and friends that something is wrong and that he has been abusing their trust. Vincent's prosperous father (Jean-Pierre Mangeot ) believes that his son has a wonderful new job in Geneva at a United Nations agency devoted to encouraging private business in African countries. He stakes him to 200,000 francs, believing the money covers the expense of an apartment in Geneva during the workweek.

Muriel reserves acting on her suspicions about Vincent's story until the final stages of the plot. This temporizing paves the way for a pair of remarkable sequences that juggle marital intimacy and estrangement.

One is an excursion to Switzerland in which Vincent diverts Muriel from his nonexistent Geneva pad by driving her to a mountain hideaway that he uses every so often. Trying to live within a tight budget, Vincent often sleeps in his car. One episode shows him being chased out of a hotel parking lot by a suspicious night security guard. He can depend on the secluded Alpine farmhouse for a night's sleep.

In the aftermath of the Swiss jaunt with his wife there's a stunning spooky interlude when she seems to vanish in fog-shrouded snowscapes Vincent edges to the brink of confession during a weekend back home. In effect, he spills the beans to Muriel without admitting that the hypothetical case he relates mirrors his own sorry situation.

Vincent begins to embody evasive behavior as a preferred response to life and social obligations in general. The implicit joke about his behavior pattern is that Vincent probably would be happier as an aspiring actor, or something that made fantasizing and play acting respectable. Fostering delusions of financial windfalls from Eastern Europe or altruistic start-up ventures in the Third World gives him a satisfying and conscience-stricken sense of freedom.

An American filmmaker would almost certainly add elements of clandestine sex to this truancy, but Vincent is not a skirt chaser. His deceptions remain concentrated on the job market, which he would prefer to transcend but can't finally outsmart.

A turning point comes when Vincent, trying to cover his expenses by luring susceptible acquaintances into bogus investment deals, attracts the curiosity and solicitude of a thriving shady businessman, Jean-Michel, peerlessly embodied by Serge Livrozet.

The dead end Vincent is approaching has escape hatches. Members of his family are eager to cushion his fall once they are fully aware of it. So is the sagacious Jean-Michel, who has weathered financial ruin and a jail sentence and runs a black market operation. Maybe he's a little more fond of Vincent on sight than he should be, but he's willing to salvage this drowning man and possible soul mate as long as Vincent can reconcile himself to a certain amount of smuggling and risk.

Director Cantet is approaching a masterful style in "Time Out" after only two features. He casts believable performers (many of them nonprofessionals) and shapes the scenario in the soundest of all possible ways, by intensifying audience curiosity about what will happen next.


****

TITLE: "Time Out"

RATING: PG-13 (Occasional profanity and sustained ominous atmosphere; episodes of family conflict)

CREDITS: Directed by Laurent Cantet. Screenplay by Robin Campillo and Mr. Cantet. Cinematography by Pierre Milon. Art direction by Romain Denis. Editing by Mr. Campillo. Music by Jocelyn Pook. In French with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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