Leave it to fascinating French writer/director François Ozon to take one of the most tired movie cliches of all time -- "I'm sorry, but you only have a few months to live." -- and turn into to a totally fresh look at what it truly means to live. Time to Leave shows how the final months of handsome 31-year-old gay fashion photographer Romain (Melvil Poupaud) turn out to be both the worst and the best of his life.
Handed his death sentence by his doctor, Romain chooses to let his cancer kill him rather than suffer through the indignities of debilitating treatment that even the doctor admits has only a five percent chance of working. But now what? Romain's first instinct is to push everyone away in order to protect them from the pain of watching him die. Always prickly with his family, who have struggled with his homosexuality, a family dinner he attends turns positively toxic when Romain insults his fragile mother (Marie Rivière) and father (Daniel Duval) and calls his sister (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) a bad mother. When his father drives him home, Romain asks him, "Do I frighten you?" Dad replies, "Yes, sometimes." Through all this, Romain has forgotten to tell them his big news.
Next he scares off his live-in boyfriend Sasha (Christian Senegewald) before fleeing into the arms of his beloved grandmother (a beautifully desiccated Jeanne Moreau). These two see eye to eye, and he tells her everything. She agrees he should feel free to die and approaches the whole thing with sadness but also with a typical Gallic shrug. When he leaves her, knowing he'll never see her again, he tells her that he wishes he had been someone else so he could have married her. It's a weird but nice compliment.
As the weeks tick by, Romain grows thinner, shaves his head, and has a fascinating encounter with a roadside waitress who offers him a chance to preserve his heritage in a unique way. His final days are spent making amends, trying to make final connections with the people he has been pushing away, but Ozon is honest enough to show us that this doesn't always work, that things don't always end with hugs and happy tears.
In the final act, Ozon stages a highly original and wordless seaside death scene that neatly sums up all the themes he's been playing with. You leave the world alone, he seems to be saying, but you'll take many memories of the people you knew and loved with you. Rarely do such simple scenes have such great power, but Ozon has an excellent track record of pulling them off. Watch how the sun sets for the final time in Romain's life. Remarkable.
The making-of featurette included on the new DVD is unusually thorough, going deep behind many of the movie's scenes, including that final beach scene. It's interesting to watch how an auteur like Ozon handles everything from casting leather daddy extras for a gay bar scene (not to mention choreographing an intricate fisting scene) to managing the minor crisis of an actor injuring his nose just before an important day of filming. Let's just say he's a hands-on director.
Aka Le Temps qui Reste.
I hear nothing.