6 July 2009

L' EMPLOI DU TEMPS / TIME OUT (Dir. Laurent Cantent, 2002, France) - The fondness of absence

Aurelein Recoing as Vincent, the troubled middle class male professional

Alongside Jacques Audiard and Michael Haneke stands the frighteningly brilliant authorial presence of Laurent Cantent who has to be one of the finest film makers working in European cinema today. Most recently Cantent's film 'The Class' was awarded the Palme D'Or, confirming his indisputable and truthful neo realist approach to cinema. Though 'The Class' seemed to present a real change in terms of adopting a much more improvisational style, Cantent's previous films adhered to a familiar art house stylisation of aesthetics. Cantent's first major work and the film that seemed to attract the most critical attention up to that point in his career was 'Time Out' in 2001. Heralding from a middle class background and having attended France's most reputed film school, it was sort of inevitable that Cantent would be drawn to middle class anxieties. Such is the case with 'Time Out', in which the central protagonist, Vincent, a corporate consultant fabricates an alternate identity for himself so that he can conceal the truth about his contempt for a system in which he has become haplessly assimilated.

Vincent lies to his family and friends, indulging a fantastical scenario in which he pretends to work for the United Nations. The lengths to which Vincent goes to sustain the lie results in his gradual estrangement from his family who come to gaze at him with both surprise and pity. Cantent's film works studiously to what has to be one of the most affecting endings I have come across in a long time. It is a devastating final shot; in a long take, the camera slowly moves in on Vincent who is being interviewed for a new job but his gaze is as vacant as the dehumanising environment in which he has become imprisoned. Accompanied by Jocelyn Pook's haunting score, this final shot reveals the alienation that employment produces on the individual - it is an angry closing statement and underlines Cantent's thematic preoccupation with institutional power and how it limits and ultimately represses any desire for an emotional truth. Aurelein Recoing's performance as Vincent is a tour de force, managing to express the horrors of his banal existence with a disquieting malaise. 'Time Out' is a masterpiece and arguably one of the best films to emerge out of French cinema in the last ten years. It is also an equally chilling horror film.


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