Note to self: if you ever get the urge to watch another French film, just sit around going "Aaaaaaughh! Stop being such a gigantic jerk!" for two hours. You'll get about the same effect. Last time it was Ma vie en rose, about a very annoying seven-year-old. This time it's "Time Out," which is the rather lousy English title they attached to L'Emploi du temps, en française, s'il vous plait. It is the very annoying story of a very annoying middle manager who gets fired and doesn't tell anybody about it, not even his family, and makes up progressively more ridiculous and annoying lies to cover his tracks.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT. I am going to give away pretty much the entire plot of the film, including the ending. This isn't really a movie review, it's more about my reaction to it. If there's any chance you'll ever see this thing, you probably better stop reading now.
According to the reviews, this movie is about job-as-identity, and how said jobs are increasingly fictional. It's all a pose you put on for your boss and your clients and there's no actual work getting done, so gosh, that sure is disorienting, isn't it? It's like you're living a LIE, and stuff! So what's the difference between pretending you do actual work when you go to an office, and pretending you do actual work when NOT going to an office?
But then there's that whole "not getting paid" thing. Aurélien Recoing, the fired middle manager in question, pretends he has a job with a company affiliated with the U.N., helping to create new companies in third-world countries. He adds a little spice to his story by saying that there is money to be made investing in such companies. Everybody loves helping the underprivileged and making money, right? Recoing cons a bunch of his friends and family into "investing" with him. The friends must really want to believe, because it's not long before he's not having to make his pitch anymore, friends are telling other friends, and those new friends are calling Recoing on their own, trying to get in on the action. Soon he's collected several hundred thousand francs of other people's money. He must feel pretty cocky about it, because he buys himself a brand-new European-looking SUV.
If this were an American movie, what sort of scene would you expect to follow closely on the heels of that one? Go ahead, say it, this is not a trick question ... right! You'd expect some of those creditors to come beat the snot out of him! And he'd be slumped in the corner of a dirty warehouse, defeated, blood dripping out of his nose, And Suddenly The Sordid And Painful Truth Of The Horrible Situation He Is In Would Be Driven Home To Him With Awful Finality. He'd probably cry, Deep And Painful Sobs Of Gut-Wrenching Agony And Defeat. And depending on what sort of genre movie this is, the protagonist will either Wake Up And Smell The Coffee, And Realize That It's Now Time To Step Back From The Edge, Just In Time For His Heroic Redemption In The Third Act, or else Skip Town, Leaving Everyone And Everything He Knows Behind, To Start A New Life In A Totally New Place.
Bleargh. See, that's why I dislike American films so much. The audience is given little to do but wait around for cliches like this one to pay off.
To its credit, this film never resolves what happens when all those friends realize they've been had. I have my own guesses, based on what I know about the characters, but the director believes it's irrelevant. The resolution, if there is one, happens offscreen. Thank god European filmmakers think I might have enough of a brain to answer a few questions for myself.
Apart from specific genre cliches, the general tone of an American film of this story would be: The Protagonist Has Committed A Grave And Fateful Mistake, And Now He Must Pay The Terrible Price. Once again, the director completely confounds American expectations, bending over backwards to give Recoing what he wants, even though he's being a complete jerk to everyone around him. The story is all like, Oh, so you've decided the working world is not for you? And now you want a life of crime? No problem!
Recoing meets a criminal with a much more sustainable strategy than his own. The criminal has actual goods to sell. They are stolen, but at least they are tangible. Up to this point, Recoing has nothing to sell but a big fat lie, so this would be a step up. At first Recoing turns away, this doesn't seem to be a path he wants to follow, but eventually he gives in. And damned if he hasn't hooked himself up with the nicest criminal in all of France! This new guy helps him make lots of money in exchange for doing almost no work, even giving him a cash advance against future earnings, and takes a genuine liking to him. The criminal wants to know all about him, and invites himself to dinner at Recoing's house so he can meet Recoing's wife and kids.
Recoing is doing his new crime-job one day and totally wigs out, for no particular reason. I thought he was finally in for it. Surely he's going to get the smackdown he'd been begging for since the beginning of the film. His duped friends might not have the cojones to challenge him, but surely the hardened criminal isn't going to let him get away with that kind of crap, right? But no, even the criminal is all like "Oh, just let him be for right now, we'll get it straightened out eventually." Major disorientation on my part.
About the same time, Recoing's family learns that he did not quit his old job as he claimed, but that he was fired, and that his new U.N.-affiliated "job" is a total fabrication. So SURELY he's going to get his smackdown NOW. But no, not even at this point. His oldest son has a few harsh words for him, but it's mainly for show. Recoing's dad, who gave him the largest amount of money, isn't mad either. Everybody around him is simply trying to talk sense into him, saying things like "money problems can always be worked out." But STILL he won't reconnect with reality, it's all just "I don't want to talk about this now" and "I'm tired" and "You don't understand." Recoing's problems, such as they are, are all in his own head.
Then there's a bit of a crossroads. You're left to wonder if maybe Recoing is going to Skip Town, Leaving Everyone And Everything He Knows Behind, To Start A New Life In A Totally New Place. Following the cliche. Or maybe he'll off himself. But no, that scene is over quickly, and he's shown at a job interview. His soon-to-be boss is explaining his new job to him, and it sounds almost EXACTLY like the pitch he was giving to his friends, back when he was conning them out of money. The "job" he imagined for himself has turned into reality.
You know what, nobody can lie. Not about anything substantial. Oh sure, I could ask you what you were doing at 9:00PM last night and you could tell me someplace that wasn't where you actually were, and I might believe it. But you CANNOT say something like "Gosh, I sure am HAPPY right now!" when it's not true and make me believe it. Eventually you'll give yourself away.
So in the interest of full disclosure, it's not just American genre film cliches that would predict Recoing was due for a smackdown. Those were MY expectations. All the way through the film. I was thinking, Geez, don't let him get away with this! Somebody PLEASE come rain consequences down on his stupid head! But no, nobody even thinks less of him, let alone gives him grief. Everybody in his life bends over backwards to help him do whatever he dreams up. No matter what he wants, somebody appears on the scene to give it to him. He asks his family to believe in his false job, and they do. He asks his family and friends to give him money, and they do, more than he asked for. He decides to be a criminal and he is, making lots of money and getting away with it. The only consequences, such as they are, are the ones he doles out for himself. He decides on a particular reality and that's where he winds up, every time. The only downside is sometimes picking a reality he can't abide by.
I'm trying to give myself permission to live in a world like that, but finding it very difficult.
Is like TV
On or off
It's up to me -- Lisa Germano