This marks the upstart of a new column I hope to make a constant fixture around the Optimism Vaccine office. Basically, I have a rather large movie collection and too many have never taken a spin in the ol’ VCR. Today, I perused my collection and extracted all the films I've never seen and piled them up in a stack that wielded just a tad over the 100 mark. So, this column is a source of my ambition to get some of these watched. Among the stack are plenty of classics, whether of the Hollywood, cult, or art house persuasion, while others are sure to be overlooked, under-seen, and all types of underwhelming. I look forward to discovering what I have spent a pretty dime on to simply neglect until now. For my initiating episode, I chose a film that was first recommended to me years ago by Optimism Vaccine’s own writer, Steve Cuff: Laurent Cantet’s 2001 Time Out. I didn't know much about the film, except it was about some guy who got fired but kept going through the motions of leaving for work, in order to hide his unemployment from his wife. For some reason, I thought there was a gun involved, but the only thing I really knew was that the plot was very similar to one of the very few episodes of The Flintstones I actually recall.
Time Out opens from the backseat of a vehicle as the protagonist Vincent appears asleep in the passenger seat. This is often how Vincent spends his days, making calls to his wife as if from his office. It may sound as if he has become an indolent logjam, a depressed idiot who escapes the home to hide from the shroud of an inevitable debilitating financial crush to his home. While the latter may be true, he may be hiding from such a financial depletion, it isn’t through laziness. Vincent comes up with a scheme to acquire funds by tricking friends, family, and acquaintances into thinking he is investing their money into slightly illegal but lucrative emerging foreign markets (or something).
While this becomes Vincent’s way of providing for his family, with many trips to Switzerland, it ultimately turns into a way for Vincent to subconsciously hide from his family. He has become obsessed with trying to uphold the assignment of providing for his family. The opening seen, where Vincent is asleep in his passenger seat becomes a symbol for his surrender from the family. While he still managed to provide for them, it was in a way that cut him off from that very fellowship.
There’s a useful scene when the wife comes to visit Vincent’s Swiss getaway: the two are lying in bed, post-coitus, and Vincent’s wife begins inspecting his body. He feels under a microscope, and uncomfortable. The scene is a physical representation for the familial pressure he is enduring. Most importantly, Time Out is about the burden of providing for a family and the detriment that the financial aspect of family can have. The film’s third act elucidates the importance of this message; the idea that money has no right to come between a family. I won’t spoil the final scene, but for the sake of the review, I’ll say it’s quite optimistic. At first, I wasn't sure of the significance of ending so positively, if it were merely sentimentalism or not, but I believe Vincent has come to acknowledge this, and his final words make his stance quite clear.
Though I feel the film is sturdy and approaches its subject quite interestingly, the largest detraction has to be the plan Vincent has devised. It’s far too thin and transparent, something a child would come up with. And I don’t believe it makes that kind of comment on the character, instead the idea is uninspired.
Perhaps the film’s strongest scene is one that has Vincent looking in the window of an acquaintance of his. The other man and his wife are in their home, going about their business. What we know about them is that he is a stay-at-home dad. He works from home and does what he loves, while she seems to be the primary bread winner. The silence of the scene and the composition of Vincent seem to suggest a learning experience for him. The couple affords Vincent the idea that there need not be a traditional definition of home and father.
That scene is just one example of why I really appreciate the family drama films France often has to offer. And not to be an annoying depreciator of popular American family dramas, because I’m not, but films such as this, or the Dardenne brothers, or pretty much any film starring Isabelle Huppert (i.e. Private Property), for instance, always provide a bit of thirst quenching. In Time Out, the plot doesn't get involved with wondering how the family finds out about Vincent’s misdoings, which is more sensational and more of an intrigue, but the focus is only on the mental state of the family, the tension between the fragile inner state of Vincent and his family as he realizes how scared of him they have become.
I wish I had more to offer on where this film lies in the socio-economic status of France at the turn of the century. Does it offer the same type of consolation or representation of the country like the recent American films (i.e. Up in the Air, The Company Men) have tried (and failed) to do? I would do a skimming of the issue on Wikipedia, but I have a feeling it just wouldn't do any justice to the film or the country.