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[whitespace] Scene from 'Time Out'
Unemployment Statistic: Aurélien Recoing loses his job but keeps on working in 'Time Out' by Laurent Cantet.

Ghost World

A businessman slips the leash in 'Time Out'

By Richard von Busack

IN ONE of Henry Miller's novels, he describes a happily unemployed hero walking out of a New York subway just as hundreds of commuters are pouring in on their way to work. Time Out possesses that same sense of liberation, but it's much more careful. Director and co-writer (with Robin Compillo) Laurent Cantet's film concerns Vincent (Aurélien Recoing), who is sprung from professional life. After some three months, he still hasn't told anyone. We see him driving through the foothills of the Alps, playfully racing a train, sleeping in his car in parking lots, stopping to watch children in a park. In the meantime, he calls his wife and kids, telling them fictions about the big business deals he's won or lost.

Sometimes he drifts through office buildings, watching strangers in their cubicles. It's an eerie vision, and you wouldn't be surprised to discover that Time Out is some kind of business-class version of The Sixth Sense. In one office, Vincent overhears some Swiss investors discussing a plan to wring some revenue out of Africa. Vincent retells this scheme to friends, claiming that it's his new job (though he changes the story to make it a U.N. charity). He promotes investment money from the people he knows and touches his father-in-law for the cash to fund an apartment in Geneva--just a loan until he can relocate his wife and kids.

It's a measure of Cantet's sophistication that he doesn't stress the exact moment when Vincent crosses the line from lying to swindling. Soon, this imaginary African scheme becomes a full-time job, and then Vincent is rescued from that new "job" by a different form of crime. He's recruited by Jean-Michel (Serge Livrozet), a kind, lonely smuggler of counterfeit T-shirts and swap-meet Rolexes. Finally, the resentment of Vincent's oldest child and the suspicions of his loving, trusting wife, Muriel (Karin Viard), bring Vincent to a crisis.

"If life's for livin' / what's livin' for?" asked the Ray Davies lyric in the Kinks' "Oklahoma U.S.A." The same question is asked in Time Out, whose original French title is L'emploi du temps (roughly, "the daily routine"). In the lead, Recoing gives exactly the kind of performance Kevin Spacey's been aiming at lately. Here we see bemusement, fatigue, the resentment of an overworked husband and father all imploding on a man too smart to be doing what he's been doing. He's a liar, but you can't resist feeling compassion for him. Time Out tells a secret. We commonly think that the force that holds capitalism together is the fear of failure. The film tells us it's something worse: the sacrifice, exhaustion and solitary unhappiness of the office are all endured out of love of family.

Time Out (Unrated; 132 min.), directed by Laurent Cantet, written by Cantet and Robin Campillo, photographed by Pierre Milon and starring Aurélien Recoing, Karen Viard and Serge Livrozet, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose.

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From the May 9-15, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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