Review: Time to Leave
Sweetly melancholy tale approaches premature death humanely
Good-looking, cocky, high-fashion photographer Romain (Melvil Poupaud) can't be bothered with people who need to be handled delicately, whether it's his pesky co-workers or his sister, who's recovering from a failed marriage. His lifestyle is suddenly arrested when he learns that a malignant cancer is so widespread throughout his body, his chances at recovery are nil, especially since he refuses chemotherapy.
Romain's first reaction after the shock has worn off is to present a cruel face to his lover Sasha (Christian Sengewald) and estranged sister Sophie (Louise-Anne Hippeau) in an attempt to prepare them for his loss without having to tell them the truth. The only person he confides in is his elderly grandmother (the legendary Jeanne Moreau) because "you're like me, you'll be dying soon."
And we as an audience feel privileged to have been told the secret too, no matter how inadvertently. Thankfully, Romain doesn't go through the cliched histrionics or "last holiday" type of outrageous behavior -- although who's to blame him if he did? Instead, in the brief time left, his emotions and outlook change by the day in a subtle, lonely and heartbreaking way. Yet, because of the way he's lived his life -- carelessly, loudly -- it almost makes sense that he's learning to be comfortable with himself and his silent thoughts.
There's no false comfort offered. As Romain is going through his ordeal, his grandmother is still dying and his parents' bittersweet marriage is still built upon past infidelities. Although he takes steps to leave some sort of legacy behind with a couple he meets in a restaurant, he doesn't necessarily do so for that grasping need for immortality by proxy, but to make a living connection with people. As he cryptically points out to Sasha, his heart is "still beating."
Ozon's touch is just as delicate with the flashbacks, which flicker through the film seamlessly and quickly. Most of the memories are random and don't necessarily have a direct bearing on his contemporary activities. For example, there's no contrived, maudlin memory of stealing his sister's teddy bear and then seeing it patchy and worn on a shelf in current times. And occasionally, some of the memories, such as an image of himself as a child, invade his waking life, literally looking out at him from a mirror. Like the old song goes, "Life is but a dream."
In his last days, Romain goes around snapping random photos with a digital camera without a set purpose. He's not intending on sending these to anybody, yet what will he do with them in death? "Time to Leave" is like one of these photos: a reminder of what life is, something that lacks power unless we pay attention to it.
Ozon frames his scenes just as matter-of-factly, generally straight on without tricks. Beautiful cinematography takes advantage of the natural light in numerous outdoor scenes, making the audience see each object with new eyes. Performances are flawless and open, and Poupaud's obvious good looks become less important in the face of his careful depiction of a man waking up to life.
As the second installment in Ozon's proposed trilogy of mourning, "Time to Leave" is gentle, thought-provoking and almost unbearably human.