Thursday, August 28, 2008

L'Emploi du temps (Time Out) by Laurent Cantet

There have been very few films about the bleakness and corruption of corporate life. If Michael Clayton was a tour de force depicting a crisis of conscience in two men whose jobs were to defend the corrupt, Cantet's Time Out is a haunting and oblique meditation on the utter meaninglessness and the soul-sucking quality of white collar jobs.

Time Out has echoes of L'Adversaire (The Adversary), though it eschews the latter's "thrilling" aspects to tell a more sober tale. The performances of George Clooney in Michael Clayton, Daniel Auteuil in The Adversary, and of Aurélien Recoing in Time Out are all marvelous and painstakingly real. Especially the final long shot of Michael Clayton and the final sequence in Time Out bring to mind something I read a while back: It takes great effort to portray the natural in art.

Inspired from actual events, and open-ended in its conclusions, Time Out paints a time-line in the life of Vincent, a just-fired consultant at a top firm, where he had been working for more than a decade. Vincent inexplicably hides the news of his firing from his family, and does not want to get hired again.

He loiters around office buildings, playgrounds, markets, visits a UN office in Switzerland, memorizes some passages from a promotional flyer and almost effortlessly starts taking money from his friends to invest in a fake venture.

He takes money from his father, gives a large gift to his son, concocts fanciful tales of his working for the upliftment of Africa, and slides further and further into an abyss, like a dead body. Not having intimacy with anyone in his life, he hesitatingly meets a failing musician friend whose very spontaneity and tenderness is congruent with his failure in life.

In the only glimmer of redemption, he meets a smuggler of fake goods (Jean-Michel), becomes his partner, and is genuinely surprised at Michel's openness and his disregard for what other people, including Michel's own family, think of him.


Vincent on the other hand, is so closed from his wife (Muriel) that even his vulnerability towards her is fake. Trying to explain his suffering, he instead tells her about the stresses at his non-existent workplace. Muriel's sympathies are not entirely clear. Is she a caring wife, or a subtly manipulative one? Similarly, his father! Is he the reason for Vincent's life of pretense, where he dare not be himself and risk being judged harshly?

In an amazing take on the abstract nature of modern managerial work, Vincent's smuggling of fake but tangible goods, versus the dead existence of his earlier life, brings a hint of joy in his life. But he is again torn apart when his wife disapproves of him. He gives up the only thing that seemingly brought him happiness, through which he could step outside the world of rules and manners.

The film also comments on the hollowness of international aid, the predatory nature of globalization and the greed-driven investments in "Emerging Markets".

Muriel exposes him to everybody. I don't think she was asking for help. The way the children react towards their father is a scathing indictment of what their mother must have told them about Vincent. Everybody gangs up against him and in a harrowing sequence of images, he is humiliated by his own children, runs away from his family into a frightening void of darkness.

At the end of the film, he appears as a dutiful, corrected version of himself, applying once again for a mind-numbing management job, a job which will require his "personal" involvement (as the recruiter says). The final sequence is so calm and reserved that its utter darkness and sense of hellish tragedy is depicted nowhere but in the cheerfully dead eyes of Vincent, and in his singular acceptance of all the conditions of his fate.

Vincent may not be scared of what lies ahead, but we are.

1 comment:

sunson said...

George Clooney is brilliant, indeed. His performance in Syriana is commendable too.