WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
L'emploi du temps (Time Out) from director Laurent Cantet is a hauntingly engaging but quiet—you might say "simmering"—film that gradually wraps itself around you, coaxing understanding, then anxiety, and finally terrible pity for its central character. This is a film of great introspection, a film that asks you to observe a man's actions and attempt to grasp his motivations. Guiding you toward that understanding is the nature of the film itself—its pace, its cinematography, its music, and particularly its lead performance. It's a top-notch effort on all counts, and the result is a film that will stay with you.
Vincent (Aurelien Recoing), we come to understand, has recently been fired from his job. The realization on our part is gradual because he seems happy as can be, wandering the countryside, driving in his carefree way through the city and through rural thoroughfares. But what do we make of his random cell phone calls, in which he's apparently lying to his wife? He speaks confidently of business meetings and contracts and coworkers as he walks peacefully through a park. Inwardly, he's a productive businessman going about his daily work routine, but outwardly he's lost, so lost that he seemingly believes his lie.
Cantet's choice to tell this story solely from Vincent's point of view gives the film a certain sense of horror. As we watch Vincent lie openly to his family and remove himself further and further from his own reality, we can't help but feel sadness—both for him and for his family. And the sadness becomes a kind of subtle dread as we see the increasingly damning results of his inward and outward deception. As the film progresses, Vincent becomes bolder and more desperate in his fakery and even begins to devise criminal strategies to swindle acquaintances, and even his father, of cash.
My initial reactions to Vincent's ever-increasing delusion and all-encompassing yearning for escape were to recoil. But don't we all occasionally desire to flee the more mundane aspects of our day-to-day existence? Upon reflection, I realized that a small dark part of me regarded Vincent as some kind of hero, a man who was actually realizing the mad dream to break free from the workaday confines of the modern social grind.
But as the movie wears on, it's increasingly clear that Vincent is hopelessly conflicted, as many of us are who yearn for such freedom. He desires and clings to all the benefits of the businessman—the suit-and-tie appearance, the suburban comfort, the commuter car, the money—but doesn't want to have to earn them. There's a potent message here, one that has stayed with me since my initial viewing: Around today's world, modern society almost completely shuns those who are out of step with the mass tendency toward yuppie sameness. Because he's thrust out of the world for which the span of his life has groomed him, Vincent feels an overwhelming shame that forces his very soul to split.
Time Out's cinematography is a gray, washed-out reflection of Vincent's inner landscape. As well, the subtle, melancholy score reinforces the tragic nature of the developing story. And Recoing's seemingly effortless performance is perfectly straightforward, offering few clues to his character's inner machinations, so that he becomes an unlikely Everyman in this striking modern parable.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Buena Vista presents Time Out in a reasonably sharp anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. The result is very film-like, with detail reaching into backgrounds. My chief complaint is that the film appears somewhat dark and has an ever-present digital shimmer that makes the image not quite as sharp as it could be. Still, this image is quite watchable.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The DVD's French Dolby Digital 5.1 track is utilitarian. Don't expect any aural fireworks from this quiet film. This is a dialog-centric enterprise that asks little of the surround speakers. However, you will notice subtle ambient music back there that punctuates the mood of the film. The dialog is clear and natural. You also get a French Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track. Optional English subtitles are available over both tracks.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The lion's share of the supplements arrive just before the main feature in the form of mandatory full-frame trailers: Tadpole, The Importance of Being Earnest, Baran, Behind the Sun, and Strictly Ballroom. You can skip past these, but you can't press Menu to avoid them.
You also get a non-anamorphic widescreen trailer for Time Out.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Time Out is a quietly absorbing film that builds from a story of one lost man into a story of far-reaching significance. Buena Vista's DVD treatment, however, is disappointing. Although the disc provides adequate image and sound quality, the extras are practically non-existent. Powerful film, lackluster DVD.