The movies have long been a breeding ground for characters
with secret selves. Witness the startling profusion of troubled
souls leading double lives in a wide variety of films during
the past year alone: Memento, The Bourne Identity, Mulholland
Drive, A Beautiful Mind, Waking Life, Moulin Rouge, Spiderman,
Minority Report, even the transformation of Anakin Skywalker
into Darth Vader in Attack Of The Clones.
The reasons vary from amnesia to schizophrenia to the sudden
onslaught of superpowers you would prefer not to reveal to
your friends. Some characters go underground by choice, others
by force. The root causes may differ, but the hidden gardens
of the self often seem surprisingly parallel. These characters
are what they hide and hide what they are. Cinema, which blends
the real and the unreal, provides a refuge for such stories
Consider the undercurrents in this conversation between Vincent
(convincingly acted by Recoing) and his son Julien:
Vincent: Why aren’t you going with us [on a family outing]?
Julien: I made other plans.
Vincent: What other plans?
Julien: With friends…
Vincent: Where are you going?
Julien: To the movies…
What secrets could be lurking in this familiar exchange?
You know what teenagers are like. And you can understand his
father’s concern—unless Vincent spies on Julien from afar,
how can he really know where Julien is going? Kids always
have something to hide. They’re always “going to the movies.”
We never do discover Julien’s true destination. But then,
the “caring” father has a secret that has penetrated the conversation
like a slow-acting poison. In fact, this is one thoroughly
Just how sick is it? Julien has no idea that his father has
also “made other plans.” Vincent lost his job as a business
consultant over three months before. Afraid and ashamed, terrified,
in his own words, that he “will disappoint”, simply pretends
that he makes the long commute to his job as usual. The only
part of his job he enjoyed was commuting. One day he realized
that he didn’t want to get out of his car to go into the office
at all. Since Vincent could no longer impersonate a team player,
his boss lets him go.
We’re in on the secret from the beginning, as the film opens
with a day in the duplicitous life. As Vincent drives down
endless highways, he chats by portable phone with his increasingly
suspicious, but still ultimately clueless, wife, Muriel (
Viard) about non-existent meetings and business trips.
The universal availability promised by cell phones has never
seemed more sinister, an essential tool for deception.
Vincent pushes his fantasy to the next level. It is no longer
sufficient to pretend that he still works in his old job.
Now he claims to have been hired by a branch of the United
Nations in Switzerland, a country notorious for its neutrality
and lack of national character. Unfortunately, in order to
finance his secret life, he embezzles money from various friends.
These trusting souls unwittingly participate in a metaphor
that reveals the hidden truth of Vincent’s life: He has created
his own dream factory to revitalize not only his bank account,
but the fantasy world of his under-nourished, marginal self.
Of course, there is ultimately no profit in it, even for him.
The most fascinating character in Time Outmay not
be Vincent, but a man called Jean-Michel ( Livrozet).
Vincent is cutting one of his bogus deals in a hotel lounge
when the observant businessman deduces—as no one else in the
film has—that Vincent is lying. Jean-Michel, a mover of counterfeit
goods, offers Vincent a job, knowing perfectly well that he
will hide that from his family too, and he never blows Vincent’s
cover. In fact, he’s not above creating a fictional identity
for himself and creeping out the audience in the process.
When he comes to Vincent’s house for dinner in a hilarious
scene, he drolly claims to work for the government’s “anti-fraud
division” and lectures Julien, whose father comes in his own
legitimate and black market versions, about the difference
between real Nikes and their knockoff versions (the ones he
sells for real). Jean-Michel is played with total conviction
by Livrozet (an actor who did time for burglary in one of
HIS earlier lives) in the film’s fullest performance.
Time Out , interestingly enough, has its own double
life. On the one hand, Time Out superbly reveals,
through subtle, stealthy dialogue and several heart-breaking
scenes, just how fraudulent social life is—everyone trying
to balance who they are with the expectations of others. On
the other hand, Time Out frequently lets the elegant
French arthouse tradition spell everything out for you. The
endless shots of dark and rainy highways, the claustrophobic
camerawork trained on lonely public spaces like rest stops
and grassy medians, the aching score played by a lugubrious,
but of course highly skilled, string quartet—all these elements
signal to you, over every scene of Vincent’s self-imposed
exile, that this is a tragedie moderne with a capital
T and a capital M. SEE modern alienation! WATCH as Vincent
drives on, haunted and alone! LOOK at what the soul-crushing
work world has done to him! Even the pristine cinematography
has an incurable case of the blues, as the filmmakers saturate
virtually every scene with melancholy variations on the color
of sadness, just in case you’ve missed the point. You know
you’re in a classy film when the alienated hero’s hiding place
is a remote, perfectly lit cabin perched in photogenic snow.
In fact, Time Out is consistently sleek and chic,
all of a piece, controlled and complete. By the end of the
film you may still feel curious about Vincent’s fate, but
his situation has become numbingly familiar due to the film’s
relentless esthetic consistency. Perhaps this explains why,
in the end, the film does not know what to do with Vincent.
In fact, it makes the mistake of deviating too drastically
from the real-life story of the original “Vincent,” Jean-Claude
Romand. Romand told family and friends that he was
a successful doctor working for the World Health Organizaton,
a fabrication that he pulled off for 18 years. On the brink
of being discovered, he slaughtered his wife, children, and
parents and burned his house to the ground.
Sticking more closely to the fascinating original may have
resulted in a different set of problems for the filmmakers
(bloody serial killers are not exactly fresh meat on the film
scene) and we could all use more penetrating, incisive studies
of what it really means to work and what it means to fail
and to be afraid. But by turning Romand’s story into an elegant
social message film in a swanky gift box and Romand himself
into a middle-class everyman, I can’t help feeling that we’ve
lost out to the urge to respectability yet again.
The film’s buzz as a virtual masterpiece may have more to
do with movie critics’ dreams about their jobs as sensitive
art-mongers than with the film itself. Not that I am beyond
such circumstances. Perhaps this review is no more than a
projection of my desire to impress you with my inability to
be impressed. I guess you’ll have to make up your own mind.