François Ozon’s “Time to Leave” – Movie Review

François Ozon’s new film “Time to Leave” is a moving and paradoxically uplifting film about death. Ozon is currently one of France’s most interesting directors and has created a remarkably varied and provocative body of work. In his brief career, he has moved from the creepy Hitchcockian thriller “See the Sea,” the outrageous John Waters-in-France black comedy “Sitcom” and the musical-tinged “Water Drops on Burning Rocks and 8 Women,” to the more sober dramas “Under the Sand,” “5×2” and “Time to Leave.” This latest film, according to the press notes, was inspired by Douglas Sirk’s 1950’s melodramas depicting the tribulations and suffering of women. Ozon replaces the female central figure with a gay man, Romain (Melvil Poupaud), a fashion photographer who learns that he has terminal cancer and has a very short time to live.

However, the Sirk analogy is somewhat misleading. Rather than indulging in melodrama, Ozon’s strategy in presenting this material is to examine his dying young man’s last days with a decidedly unsentimental, almost coldly analytical eye. Romain’s glamorous, jet-setting lifestyle is dispensed with in the film’s first few minutes, when he faints during a shoot, and soon learns the fateful news from his doctor. Rejecting chemotherapy and unwilling to pursue even the slim chance of survival his doctor offers, Romain’s response is to push away his family and friends and live his final days in self-imposed isolation. He breaks up with his live-in boyfriend Sasha (Christian Sengewald), throwing him out of their apartment. He insults his sister Sophie (Louise-Anne Hippeau), rejecting the closeness they once shared as kids. Through much of the film, he is egotistical and selfishly cold towards others.

Remarkably, however, as Romain goes on a road trip, leaving his work behind, his forbidding exterior begins to melt, and he is confronted with childhood memories, presented in the film through flashbacks seamlessly interwoven throughout the film, suggesting that the past he has tried to forget has insistently returned at the time of his death. He chooses to reveal his impending death only to his grandmother (Jeanne Moreau) because, in his words, “You’re like me, you’re going to die soon.”

The beach, a recurring setting in this film, and much of Ozon’s previous work, figures prominently here, and is the stage of major events and epiphanies in Romain’s life. Ozon subtly and without overt courting of audience sympathies creates a compelling portrait of his young protagonist’s confrontation with mortality, aided by Melvil Poupaud’s quietly effective performance. Even though Poupaud’s character is central to the film, he is greatly aided by the supporting cast, most notably the great Moreau, who in her brief screen time conveys a complex history that proves to be crucial in our understanding of Romain’s actions.

With “Time to Leave,” the second in a death-themed trilogy that began with “Under the Sand,” Ozon confirms his status as one of France’s, and indeed the world’s, most vital filmmakers.

Time to Leave is released by Strand Releasing and opens in New York on July 14 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Angelika Film Center. Time to Leave also screens at the Museum of Modern Art on July 12 as part of the series “Ozon at the Beach,” which highlights the significance of the beach setting in Ozon’s films. Also screening in MOMA’s series are “See the Sea,” “5×2” and “Under the Sand.” For more information, visit