An unnerving and beautiful story about one man's confrontation of his impending death, Time to Leave achieves a winning symbiosis of French filmmaker François Ozon and star Melvil Poupaud. Poupaud plays 31-year-old photographer Romain, who learns he has cancer and only months to live. His personal journey leads him to pull away from his boyfriend and his family and drift, in his mind, back to his inner child.
A casual cocaine user with a tendency to hide behind his lens, Romain bluntly notes, "I'm not a nice person." He proves it by cruelly lashing out at his sister and then his boyfriend. In between those encounters, Romain tentatively reaches out to his father (Daniel Duval), who unexpectedly confesses of their remote relationship, "Maybe I never learned to talk about myself."
Determined to follow his instincts (which prove to be mostly selfish), Romain confides only in his grandmother (the magnificent Jeanne Moreau) because—as he bluntly observes—only she can understand the proximity to death. Romain contemplates fathering a child for a barren heterosexual couple (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Walter Pagano), but Time to Leave mostly elaborates on how death must ultimately be a personal experience. Ozon's patient guidance and observation of Romain—and his embodiment by Poupaud—results in a touching and cathartic exploration of mortality.
Ozon briefly dips into childhood flashbacks that make simple points (a sexual turning point and an incident that teaches young Romain it's "nature's way" for the weak to perish). Clocking in at a sleek 78 minutes, Time to Leave can be fairly accused of being slight and a bit schematic in its knee-jerk refusals of any of the usual "dying young" clichés. But its strength is as a cinematic tone poem, wafting on wistful tableaus and sad faces.
[For Groucho's interview with François Ozon, click here.]