French film “Full Time” is a calm but intense observation of one desperate personal struggle. As its heroine tries her best for herself and her children despite an increasingly difficult circumstance, the movie gradually immerses us into her situation via a number of dry but emotionally tense moments, and we come to have more understanding and empathy on her grueling predicament.
At the beginning, the movie quickly establishes how things have been bad for its heroine. Julie Roy (Laure Calamy) is a young divorced mother of two little kids, and she has earned her meager living via working as a maid in some five-star hotel in Paris. She and her two kids live in a suburban area outside Paris mainly because she thought it will provide a better environment for her kids, so she has to go back and forth between Paris and that suburban area by train on every weekday, but that has been quite difficult for her due to an ongoing transit strike. Because there are much fewer trains now, she must wake up earlier than before, and she usually returns to her home very late while her two kids are waiting at the house of a kind old neighbor.
Constantly following its heroine, the movie lets us get to know more about how she has been cornered in many aspects. At her workplace, she is always busy as frequently demanded to do one thing after another, and her direct supervisor may fire her at any point just because she is often late for work due to the transit strike. At her home, she is usually too tired to pay more attention to her kids, and that neighbor of hers becomes more reluctant to babysit her kids for understandable reasons. In addition, her ex-husband has not yet sent the routine support money for her and her kids, and, to her growing exasperation, he does not even answer to her calls at all.
At least, there is some hope for Julie because she is soon going to do an important job interview, though it does not look that promising to her. As a woman who has enough education and experience for that job, she might actually succeed in getting that job, but she will have to take the risk of losing her current job for that small possibility, and the mood becomes more nervous as she later attempts to do the job interview even though she is supposed to be working in the hotel.
Meanwhile, the situation keeps getting worse for her day by day. At one point, Julie has no choice but to sleep at a shabby little hotel in Paris because there is no bus or train for her and many others, and she certainly feels ashamed when she picks up her kids at that neighbor’s house on the next day. At her workplace, she comes to conflict more with not only several colleagues of hers but also her supervisor, who is not so pleased about what Julie did for going to that job interview.
Around that point, the screenplay by writer/director Eric Gravel provides relatively more relaxed moments to our relief. Despite many problems she has to deal with in one way or another, Julie does not forget preparing for the birthday party for one of her kids, and she feels a bit happy as playing with her kids and other kids invited to the party. She also comes to befriend some guy in the neighborhood, and we sense her attraction toward him when he kindly fixes the faulty boiler of her house.
Of course, the mood soon becomes quite urgent for her again, and Gravel and his crew members did a splendid job of generating a moody but palpable sense of desperation on the screen. While cinematographer Victor Seguin presents the urban backgrounds surrounding the heroine in cold and harsh ambience, the propulsive electronic score by Irène Drésel frequently accentuates her urgency, and we come to brace ourselves more than before. This is certainly not a comfortable experience at all, but our eyes keep following her plight thanks to Grave’s skillful direction, and we come to care more about what may happen to her next.
Above all, the movie is firmly held together by its unadorned but strong lead performance. Laure Calamy, who won the Best Actress award when the film was shown in the Orizzonti section of the Venice International Film Festival in last year (The movie also won the Best Director award, by the way), is superlative as effortlessly embodying her character’s weary desperation on the screen, and she is particularly stunning when her character must try anything for not losing her job. As the camera looks at her face closely, we can feel how desperate her character really is, and it is really devastating to see what eventually happens not long after that. In case of several other main cast members in the film, Anne Suarez, Geneviève Mnich, and Cyril Gueï are also fine in their respective supporting roles, and Mnich provides some human warmth as her character shows some sincere concern to Julie.
I always cherish movies which can function as the window to different human conditions and experiences, and “Full Time” is surely one of such good films. Yes, this is indeed a tough stuff to watch, but it is still engaging mainly thanks to the commendable efforts from Gravel and his cast and crew members, and its last scene will linger on your mind for a while after it is over. On the whole, this is one of more interesting films of this year, and I think you should give it a chance someday.
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