Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
For those perplexed by the smooth account Canadian con-man John Davy gave of himself on the Holmes show, Laurence Cantet’s engrossing, coolly suspenseful Time Out may suggest a few answers. Cantet’s fiction was inspired by the notorious case of Jean-Claude Romand, a man who pretended for 18 years to be a medical researcher for the World Health Organization in Geneva, when in fact he had no medical qualifications. Romand ended his life of imposture bloodily, but the violence in Time Out is much more discreet.
At the start of the movie, Vincent, the blandly handsome Aurélien Recoing, a businessman in his 40s, seems to be courting dismissal from his job by driving obsessively and missing meetings. When he’s fired he tells nobody but constructs an imaginary new role for himself – something to do with the United Nations and an apartment in Geneva. He funds the fantasy by borrowing from his father and conning old acquaintances. This works very nicely, and Vincent meets unexpected challenges with the amoral aplomb of a Patricia Highsmith character. He is obliged to swindle a poor and trusting friend and to negotiate the suspicions of a black marketeer (the amazing ex-con and intellectual anarchist Serge Livrozet) who embodies the kind of life he might choose for himself if he did not want to maintain family ties and material comfort. As deceit is heaped upon deception, bourgeois respectability eventually detects Vincent’s defection and moves to reclaim him.
Though there’s room to see Cantet’s film as social commentary on the emasculating effect of unemployment, it’s most compelling as an exposé of the fantasy of self-employment – or self-determination – in a corporate world. Time Out is much drier than Cantet’s earlier Human Resources, with which it shares a strong line in conflicted father/son relationships. Vincent has a strained relationship with his cold, self-assured, judo-champion teenage son; and is patronised by his affectionate father. Karin Viard makes a beguilingly ambiguous audience-identification figure as Vincent’s wife, simultaneously wary and unwavering in her support of the husband who is making himself up in front of our eyes – and possibly also hers. Just how much does she choose to ignore? An atmosphere of existential unease is elegantly enunciated in the chilly formality of the compositions and a plangent chamber music score by Jocelyn Pook. — BG