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Dead reckoning

François Ozon’s Le temps qui reste
By GERALD PEARY  |  October 18, 2006

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TRANSFIGURED: The cool, clever Ozon becomes emotional, even spiritual.

Although it’s a transgressive masterwork, nobody seems eager to revive the pestilent 1992 film Les nuits fauves|Savage Nights, in which dying-of-AIDS filmmaker/star Cyril Collard left this earth, both in life and on celluloid, in a blaze of bi-sexual promiscuity, unsafe sex, and anger at his unfair demise.

In an interview, François Ozon has acknowledged Les nuits fauves as a starting point for Le temps qui reste|Time To Leave, his tender, poignant new film (at the Kendall Square), where the late Collard, so handsome and defiant, is resurrected by the equally studly Melvil Poupaud. Romain, a haughty, detached 31-year-old fashion photographer, comes down with a fatal disease — not AIDS, though he’s gay and out, but a fast-spreading cancer. And how he deals with it, so differently from Collard, constitutes Ozon’s simple but affecting story.

As Romain is subtly humanized, so is Ozon. Previously, the very prolific filmmaker (Sous le sable|Under the Sand, 8 femmes|8 Women, Swimming Pool, etc.) has been facile, clever, cool. Le temps qui reste is his first work of deep emotion. “For this film, I wanted to try a masculine melodrama. I wanted to see if this young man’s story could elicit tears.”

At the beginning, nothing shows on Romain’s chiseled face when the doctor informs him he has a malignant tumor, it’s metastasized, and he has three months to live. Although he cancels a fashion shoot to Japan, he tells nobody. Only the audience understands his repressed anguish when he acts cruelly to the people who care most: his insecure sister, Sophie (Louise-Anne Hippeau), who pines for the love they shared as children, and his younger boyfriend, Sasha (Christian Sengewald), whom he breaks up with without explanation. In many close-ups, Romain remains impassive. Suddenly, Ozon cuts to an extreme long shot, and Romain, now a tiny, vulnerable figure in the frame, sobs inconsolably on a park bench.

He gets in his car and goes to visit grandma, and immediately he blurts out the news. In his strait-laced family, this old lady is the most like him, a selfish old coot who left her husband and had a host of lovers and even now, in her 70s, sleeps in the nude. She’s played by the venerable, scratchy-throated goddess of the French New Wave, Jeanne (Jules et Jim) Moreau, who in this movie smokes what must be the millionth cigarette of a lusty lifetime.

Romain leaves grandma’s house a changed man. Slowly, slowly, he finds himself. Before he would take pictures silly-fashion, snapping shot after shot. Now he’s purposeful, looking to capture something essential in life. Before, he dismissed out of hand the request of a married waitress (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) to give her and her sterile husband a child. Now he reconsiders. Perhaps he needs to leave a mark on this earth. In a quiet way, Le temps qui reste veers toward the spiritual, and Romain (it’s a towering performance by Poupaud) becomes transformed, the hard, devilish visage of Eurotrash softened almost to beatitude. Who can resist the beautiful ending down on the beach? It’s a tender evocation of Gustav von Aschenbach’s famous yielding of the ghost in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.

CORRECTION! Several months ago in the Phoenix I stated that the living American director with the earliest Hollywood film is Stanley Donen, who was born in 1924 and made On the Town in 1949. Wrong! Try Jules Dassin, born in 1911, who made Nazi Agent and two other movies in 1942.

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