time out (2002)

director: laurent cantet

aurelien recoing, karin viard, serge livrozet

Any film that starts off with someone sleeping in their car is giving you an obvious clue to its intentions - this is a film about the disintegration of someone's life. When we first meet Vincent, he's waking up in the cold light of an overcast morning, lying to his wife about the business trip that, in fact, has him driving idly around the east of France near the Swiss border, in a big SUV that, when you think about it, isn't a bad substitute for a hotel room.

Vincent - played by Aurelien Recoing with a blank gravity that barely disguises his character's utter emotional and physical freefall - has been out of work for months now, and an initial hesitation to tell his family has turned into an increasingly elaborate charade that grows into a fictitious but prestigious job with a UN agency in Geneva. In need of money, Vincent begins defrauding old friends, whose unseemly eagerness to cash in on what sounds like a dubious scheme, even if it were real, should be familiar enough from the recent boom gone bust.

The dim blue twilight in which Vincent wakes in the first scene continues through most of the rest of the film, punctuated only by a brief scene or two in a remote mountain cabin where Vincent escapes, alone, or with his wife (Karin Viard), to have their only truly happy moment together. It becomes plain that, although he's invested everything in his role as a successful businessman, Vincent is utterly unsuited for it, and his actions constantly but covertly conspire to destroy everything his ambition and lies painstakingly build.

Time Out is really a character study of Vincent, or men like Vincent, of which it has to be understood there are thousands commuting and collecting paycheques at any given moment, in any city or town. Which is why, when Vincent's scheme starts to unravel and he's forced to work for a charming but lugubrious smuggler who effortlessly sees through his lies, it's quite late in the movie, and what should have been the whole of the plot works like a subplot, and one that's dropped with confusing haste. It's the only real flaw with this otherwise confident and remarkable film, but it's a considerable one, and undermines what aspires to be an unsettling ending, as surely as Vincent's character betrays his own ambitions.