A sincere, heavyweight chamber piece about a young photographer (Melvil Poupaud) dying from cancer, Francois Ozon’s “Time to Leave” reps one of the helmer’s most straightforward, but perhaps least interesting pics. Forming — along with “Under the Sand” (2000) — the second part of projected trilogy about death, film is also Ozon’s first since “Water Drops on Burning Rocks” to feature a gay character in a central role, although sexuality is only peripheral to the story. Accessible and oddly upbeat, pic may travel beyond solid Ozon fan base, especially in territories where turn from Gaul legend Jeanne Moreau will provide pull.
Paris-based fashion photographer Romain (Poupaud) seems to have it all — a cute boyfriend named Sasha (Christian Sengewald), a beautiful loft apartment and a fast-growing career reputation. When he suddenly passes out during a photo shoot, his first instinct is to suspect he has AIDS. But, the diagnosis is even worse: He has terminal cancer, which has metastasized to such an extent, even chemotherapy probably won’t stop it.
Opting to check out in his own way and with minimal treatment, Romain keeps his prognosis a secret. During a family dinner, he tells some cruel home truths to his single-parent sister Sophie (Louise-Anne Hippeau), much to the distress of his affectionate, tolerant parents (Daniel Duval and Marie Riviere). Back at his loft, he has sex with Sasha and then tells him it’s over and that he wants him to move out, a fact Sasha accepts fairly well given their relationship recently hit a lull.
Next, Romain sets off to visit his grandmother Laura (Jeanne Moreau, deliciously wry), stopping off at a cafe en route where he has a moment of rapport with the waitress, Jany (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi).
When he sees his grandmother, he tells her what’s really going on because, as he cruelly but honestly puts it, she’ll also be dying soon. An outrageous bohemian in her own day who feels a rapport with her openly gay grandson, Laura comforts Romain, with the two sharing a bed despite the fact Laura doesn’t wear a stitch in the sack. These tenderly played scenes between Poupaud and Moreau are the most resonant in the film.
Rest of pic observes Romain gently going into the good night, but not before he strikes a deal with Jany that will leave something of him behind in the world apart from the photographs he takes with a compact digital camera of favorite places and loved ones he’s leaving behind. Some sentiment-adverse viewers may dread pic will end with montage of these snaps, but Ozon thankfully restrains, though he can’t resist working in his now-signature use of seaside settings.
Nevertheless, given helmer is best known for his tart, ironic touch, Ozon turns surprisingly slushy here, with details that push the weepy envelope just a little too far. For instance, a younger version of Romain (played by adolescent Ugo Soussan Trabelsi) wafts through the plot observed by his ghostly self, the very incarnation of his inner child with whom lead character is getting in touch.
Poupaud (best known beyond Gaul for “Le Divorce”), a newcomer to Ozon’s semi-official rep company of players, anchors pic with an affecting, unself-pitying perf and brings a subtle physicality to the role, going from buff beefcake to emaciated invalid by end of pic. Bruni-Tedeschi, working with Ozon a second time after “5×2,” offers a sensual yet maternal turn as the good-hearted Jany, while Duval and Riviere add further heft to pic’s star-top-heavy cast.
Tech credits are pro. Employing widescreen for the first time in Ozon’s career in collaboration with regular cohort d.p. Jeanne Lapoirie (“8 Women,” “Under the Sand”) proves strikingly effective, particularly for last tranquil magic hour shot that rounds off film with a sleep. Editing credited to Monica Coleman is laudably economical.
For the record, pic’s literal title in French is “The Time That’s Left.”