I was beginning to feel like the battered wife of François Ozon. When we first got together we had some great times. Une Robe d’Été still makes me smile every time I see it. Sitcom is wacky, but good (what’s not to love about incest, giant rodents and multiple murder?). And, naturellement, there’s 8 Women which still stands as one of my favourite films ever. But then, there was Under the Sand which was just strange but not quirky/enjoyable strange. More like head scratching/foreigner-in-Tokyo strange. Criminal Lovers creeps me out to just think of it. Swimming Pool was completely incoherent and had more topless scenes than any film I have seen. Last year, he offered 5x2, which mostly left me cold despite horrific scenes of painful divorce and marriage-night rape. I cling to the old times, back when we got along, and continue to shell out money to see each of Ozon’s offerings in turn. Less than a year after his mathematically-titled feature, Ozon has produced another film, showing just how desperately he is reaching for the Joyce Carol Oates award for Prolificacy (film division).
His latest, however, did not disappoint in the slightest. This is a film of the man I fell in love with. Time to Leave tells the story of Romain, a photographer who is unexpectedly diagnosed with highly advanced cancer and, like so many baked goods, is given an expiration date. The terminal patient dealing with cancer is so over used that even to mock it is cliché. Audiences are groomed to expect one of three outcomes: a miraculous recovery, a majestic live reversal/dying that makes the transfiguration in A Christmas Carol seem about as life-altering as a haircut, or touching scenes of reconciliation with loved ones before fading away. Ozon shies away from all these and manages to make a moving film about a complete jerk who just happens to be dying.
Supposedly this film is the second in a proposed trilogy on the theme of mourning (the first is Under the Sand). Time to Leave asks the question, how do we mourn ourselves? I don’t know that it really gets around to answering this question, but it sure beautifully hovers around Romain and his final months. From visiting his grandmother one last time to breaking up with his boyfriend, the scenes don’t quite add up to a plot. Rather they accrete around Romain whose emotional deterioration mirrors his physical corrosion.
My love for this cinematic effort may lie partially in the fact that, faced with the same trouble as Romain, I would react in exactly the same way. I would also systematically burn all my bridges. Because, like Romain (and presumably Ozon), I believe that life is not a series of memories or even accomplishments. It is an unending series of failures and the regret they entail. L’enfer may be les autres, but la vie, c’est remords.