Mea maxima culpa and a new release

I hereby promise not to skip an entire month of blogging ever again.
I hereby promise not to prepare readers for stuff I can't deliver.
I hereby promise not to be such a lazy SOB.

I could blame it all on the final stages of editing and proofing my book. I could claim illness and travel. I could just 'fess up and say I'm too indolent to stick to a schedule I don't get paid for. There is a grain of truth in all of those excuses.

At any rate, I didn't make it to the screening of the Antonioni films the day that I posted that last entry. I'm not sure that I would have found anything new to say about his work anyway. As Andrew Sarris once said at a class on L'Avventura, in Antonioni's films everything is right there on the surface. I'm not going to dismiss anyone who gave us Monica Vitti at her most stunning and the sequence in the car in the fog from Identification of a Woman, but I've never been able to figure him out, maybe because there really isn't much beneath those gleaming surfaces.

Whatever.


Francois Ozon, on the other hand, is a director for whom subtext is a real, living thing. Unfortunately, the subtext for much of his work consists of the movies he has seen most recently. The result, in films like Sitcom and 8 Women, is a sort of teasing, tedious jokiness that reads like the work of the Coen Brothers' clever Francophone cousin. For most of us, age has a way of beating that smirk off our faces -- although the Coen Brothers appear to be an exception -- and Ozon's latest film Time to Leave, which opens on Bastille Day, July 14, is more deeply felt than anything else of his I've seen (although I admit that I haven't seen Under the Sand, which has an impressive list of defenders).

Time to Leave is simple and brief at 85 minutes. Melvil Poupaud is a successful gay fashion photographer who learns that he has an inoperable form of cancer, leaving him between six months and a year to live. He systematically cuts himself off from his work, lover, family and friends, then almost reluctantly agrees to impregnate a woman (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) whose husband is sterile. Leaving the entirety of his estate to the unborn child, he achieves some sort of inner peace.

Ozon eschews both the film-school fabulous pastiches that plague most of his work and the narrative over-complexity that robs 5X2 of any emotional force. Poupaud is excellent and virtually never off-camera. The film has some stunning moments. My personal favorite comes early. Almost immediately after hearing his diagnosis, Poupaud is sitting on a park bench watching other people around him (Ozon makes a good deal out the character's detached voyeuristic personality), he takes out a small digital camera and begins to snap a trio of young people lying in the grass chatting. Ozon suddenly cuts back to a long shot of Poupaud, alone in the frame but awkwardly situated off-center and well to the end of the bench he's sitting on; he holds the shot for an unusually long time and, just before he cuts away, Poupaud bursts into tears. Ozon never moves the camera in closer, which makes the moment all the more effective for being so unaccented.

In a way, though, that points up the real problem with Time to Leave. The very distance that makes that sequence in the park work so well ultimately chills the film's emotional center. The result is a highly thoughtful and intelligent film, but not a particularly warm or moving one. Still, it's well worth a look.

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