Sunday, August 19, 2007

Time To Leave (2006)


I'm not quite sure what this says about me, but I can often find that the films that depress most people can exhilarate me when they've just been done so well. As is the case with Fran├žois Ozon's Time To Leave.

Truth is, when I saw it, I really liked it, but didn't love it upon leaving the theater. But it's just one of those films that grew in my estimation with time. It has since become one of my favorite films of the decade.

On the face of things, this would seem like your run of the mill movie of the week, but, it really isn't. As far as terminal illness movies go, they're a dime a dozen, but what Time To Leave manages to do is to bring a fresh perspective.

The central character, Romain, is NOT a likable guy, nor will he have a change of heart at any time during the movie. He's an instigator with few people he truly shows any love for. He's the sort that pushes people away and knows how to push buttons intentionally: with family, with his boyfriend, and almost anyone with whom he comes into contact.

But, when he receives a diagnosis of terminal cancer, it sets off a chain of events that really only seems to make sense to him. He doesn't reveal his diagnosis to anyone except his grandmother (in a small, but wonderful, performance from Jeanne Moreau).

I think a lot of things amazed me about this film, but I think what stuck with me is that it managed to remain poignant while not trying to forcibly redeem Romain. He's an ass up to the end, in most respects. Yet, I still found myself caring about him as a character who is weaker than he lets on. But it manages to do so without employing all the tired cliches from most of these types of films. As much as we like to say that we don;'t care what people think of us, Romain truly doesn't, and he's selfish throughout. Yet, he takes a very interesting internalized journey through his past and what shaped him into being the unsympathetic man he's become, and reflect on a life being cut too short far too early.

I also have to say that it is refreshing to see a film concerning a gay man who has a terminal illness that isn't AIDS. Now, that's not to downplay the devastation AIDS has caused every community (although the gay community has been disproportionately effected). But it's nice to see a film in that the gay community isn't just reduced to having one story to tell when it comes to illness.

Beyond just a storyline I cared about, it never would have worked if it weren't for the actors involved. Beyond the aforementioned performance by Jeanne Moreau, Melvil Poupaud is astoundingly good here. Probably amongst my favorite leading male performances of all time. He's really that good. I hope to see great things from him in the future. Just a great performance that exudes angst and a quiet sort of intensity. And while it seems quite commonplace nowadays for actors to give up vanity for a role, it often comes off as a stunt now, but here, I think it just came off in a way that wasn't distracting. It wasn't a role where I felt like he was screaming for an award because he dropped weight. It seems simply incidental.

And in a supporting role, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi once again gave a performance that is just amazing. She has such a natural knack for giving a complete performance that just grabs you. One of those few actresses who can make a character feel more important than it really is in the scheme of things, and who can communicate volumes simply through facial expressions alone: she doesn't need the big Oscar clip to communicate exactly what the character is feeling. She makes you feel it through a subtle shift in a forced smile or a gentle movement in her eyes to make you know exactly what she is feeling.

And the closing scene is just so gorgeously filmed. I can't recall being moved so much by such beautiful imagery in lieu of all the grandiose finales to comparable films. I haven't been impressed with much of gay cinema, but this one is a rare exception to so much of the garbage out there for the gay community. Yet, it's not a film that requires a sexual preference to admire. I think the story is pretty universal, and while some folks seem to have an aversion to anything gay, and I'll reserve comment on that, but I think for those open minded enough took beyond sexual labels, and for those who really truly appreciate cinema in all its forms, they'll find a wonderful film here as well.

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