Le temps qui reste | Time to Leave [2005]

5/10 | 5.Jun.12
Le temps qui reste | Time to Leave

DIRECTOR: François Ozon  |  WRITER: François Ozon  |  CAST: Melvil Poupaud, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Christian Sengewald, Jeanne Moreau  |  France

Le temps qui reste is my first François Ozon film and I have to believe it’s atypical of his oeuvre since there’s nothing particularly enfant terrible-ish about it. Romain (Melvil Poupaud) is a successful and self-involved 31-year-old gay fashion photographer who’s told that he has an inoperable tumor and has only a few months to live. Forgoing chemotheraphy since his doctor gave him only a 5% chance of a cure, but also because it would make him look awful and all his hair would fall out, he abruptly ends his relationship with his live-in lover, alienates his sister (a newly divorced mother of two small children who’s pregnant with her third), and goes on extended leave from his job in order to reminisce about his boyhood and take pictures of things. He also tells no one that he’s dying except for his paternal grandmother (played by Jeanne Moreau, bien sûr), the only member of his family with whom he feels a real affinity.

While watching the film I wondered why Ozon specifically wrote Romain as a young and quite attractive* (and, surprisingly, visibly virile in one scene) gay man, until the plot turns about halfway through and a waitress and her husband are introduced into the film. There’s a mashup of associations in the film — eros, thanatos, sterility, fertility — that I found distracting and, in thinking about it, offensive. First, it’s clear that Ozon is connecting sex and death, gay sex in particular: Romain’s first thought on being told he’s gravely ill is that he has AIDS, and we’re never not being reminded that the visibly wasting away Romain is a very sexually adventurous person. (After breaking up with his lover and throwing him out of the apartment, Romain cruises a gay bar and then takes in the sights at a heavy-duty gay sex club where he watches while a young man who resembles his lover gets fisted.)

But Ozon is also exploring sterility and fertility: Romain’s heavily pregnant sister has two young children he refuses to photograph because, he says, he hates children and her children in particular because they remind him of her reproductive capacity. Later, the waitress he runs into sums him up as being single and childless whereas she is married and childless because her husband (who is pointedly average looking) is sterile…so maybe Romain can balance the equation? So all of these associations are in play — (gay) sex and death; (hetero) sex and life; sterility-fertility, being single-being coupled, attractiveness-plainness — and I’m not sure how or whether we’re meant to connect them, but I was really put off by the gay sex = sterility = death equation. Romain is good looking and vain, single by choice, sterile (or childless, anyway), hurtling towards death because of gay sex, but he can be fertile through heterosexual sex and thereby create life? Ack. The film isn’t good enough for me to want to work it all out so I’m content just to be put off by it.

And to make matters even more cheesy and off-putting, Le temps qui reste ends with a visual image that would look perfect as a poster on a too-serious, pouty teenager’s bedroom wall.

* Dennis Lim in The Village Voice makes a great observation:  “But Time to Leave amounts simply to a semi-thoughtful disease-of-the-week weepie, admirable in its restraint but shying from the terror of the situation. The instructive comparison is with Patrice Chéreau’s Son Frére [sic], a tough-minded account of a young man’s preparation for death, starring a convincingly ashen Bruno Todeschini (Poupaud, even when crouched over the toilet bowl and violently retching, is absurdly beautiful).”

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