This post contains one NSFW image and has some SPOILERS.
Francois Ozon is a pretty prolific filmmaker and this is actually the most recent film of his I’ve seen – meaning I’ve missed 7 features! My favorite remains Under the Sand, which is totally devastating and gorgeous (and it doesn’t hurt that it features Charlotte Rampling). Time to Leave feels small. It reminds me of Joachim Trier’s very awesome Oslo, August 31st in some stylistic ways: the often high-key lighting, the similar looking protagonists, solitary moments with that protagonist where surroundings and POV take on a greater significance.
In Under the Sand Ozon used dream/nightmare sequences. Here are dream/flashback sequences. They could feel corny or overly simplistic elsewhere, but he never uses them beyond a tenderly reflective moment. They work.
The end of the film seemed to me to be an unmistakable reference to Death in Venice (digressing: someone recently asked me about my favorite adaptations. This would have to be one. It’s pretty faithful to Mann’s story, it’s really grotesque and beautiful at once, is probably Visconti’s best film, and features Dirk Bogarde in a fantastic turn).
Like Mann’s story and Visconti’s film, Ozon’s main character Romain (Melvil Poupaud) is dying. He ends up on the beach and interacting with a small boy (in a somewhat La Jetee moment). He then reclines and his pale, withered body becomes part of the environment…and he wastes away:
Ozon follows this shot with a gorgeous sunset, somewhat at odds with Visconti’s approach, but the link – the sexual “deviance” of both characters, the final moment of humanity – seems unmistakeable.
There’s a menage a trois in Time to Leave that is one of the better scenes in the film. Romain agrees to attempt to impregnate a woman who’s husband is sterile. The husband participates at Romain’s request. Counter to some earlier sexual scenes, it’s gentle. The end is the best part. Romain flops back exhausted and the wife and husband kiss as though it were only the two of them:
Ozon then cuts to this shot-
-which I like for several reasons. It kind of explains the absurdity of the female body being so taboo. I mean, there’s a whole bunch of nipples in there. Why should two of them be inappropriate and the other two just fine? I also like the framing. Cutting off the heads and showing only torsos is unique way to show Romain’s simultaneous closeness and isolation. The husband’s hand on his wife’s stomach does a lot. It’s also a just a nice composition. A tangle of skin filled with vertical and horizontal lines where my eye travels all around, sensing the importance of the moment as it does.
There’s some nice narrative ambiguity in here. Romain has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He chooses to forego chemo and instead breaks up with his boyfriend, visits his grandmother, and makes peace with his sister. But about two-thirds of the way through the film there’s a scene with him and his doctor again. There’s no talk of treatment (instead, a brief conversation about a dream). Shortly thereafter, Romain shaves his head. Does he actually die at the end (I think yes, but maybe that’s just the Death in Venice reference)?