Death sentence

Death sentence

What would you do if your doctor said you had only three months to live? The protagonist of Fran?s Ozon’s latest movie Time To Leave finds himself in this situation, and its story is better described by its French title Le Temps Qui Reste (the time that remains) than its English one.

Romain is a very successful young Parisian fashion photographer, but quite an unsympathetic hero. When he learns he has inoperable brain cancer, he snorts some coke, insults his family and sister at their family dinner, goes home and roughly fucks his sweet young boyfriend before breaking up with him and ordering him out of the apartment.

You may think you can guess how this story goes -“ he’ll be transformed by his impending death and make his peace with everyone -“ but you’d be wrong.

Rejecting the dubious benefits of chemotherapy offered by his doctor, he decides to tell no one of his illness except his beloved grandmother, whom he visits in the country.

Even then, he’s tactless -“ he tells her he confides in her because she is old and approaching death as he is. Living alone and alienated from her family by her bohemian lifestyle, she is played by screen legend Jeanne Moreau, and the scene where Romain shares her bed is the movie’s most touching moment.

Gay director Fran?s Ozon’s work is well known to patrons of Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras film festivals and it covers a wide range of genres -“ Criminal Lovers, Sitcom, 8 Women, Swimming Pool and last year’s 5×2 come to mind.

Though Time To Leave‘s dying hero is gay (he doesn’t have AIDS), the Ozon movie it most relates to is Under The Sand, where Charlotte Rampling comes to terms with the presumed death of her missing husband, and the director is planning a third movie to complete the trilogy about death and bereavement.

Despite the sombre subject, Time To Leave is more fascinating than depressing. As Romain, Melvil Poupaud is ridiculously attractive even when dying, but he’s a quirky actor, unforgettable as the feckless hero of Eric Rohmer’s A Summer Tale (1996), and recently seen as an S&M sex worker in Eros Therapy.

Ozon seems to be deliberately avoiding sentimentality, but there’s an unexpected twist to the plot that comes close to sinking the movie. It involves Valeria Bruni Tedeschi from 5×2, here playing a waitress in a roadside diner, and it stretches credulity to the extent that you wonder if it’s a fantasy.

The intriguing final sequence may not leave you in tears but its sadness goes deeper than sentimentality. As Romain detaches himself from his material life, he feels what could be described as the unbearable lightness of being. Peace will come to him beside the open sea in what must surely be Ozon’s most accessible movie.

Time To Leave opens today

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