Time Out (L'Emploi du Temps)
dir. Laurent Cantet
Opens Fri April 26 at the Metro.

When we FIrst meet Vincent (Aurélien Recoing), he is a gray, rumpled mass in the front seat of his car. As the unforgiving morning sun burns the blur of condensation off the window, his cell phone awakes him. It is his wife, Muriel (Karin Viard), and before he has even cleared the sleep from his eyes, he begins weaving that day's elaborate net of lies about long meetings, difficult clients, and the rigors of his work. The truth is that months earlier, Vincent was fired from his job as a financial consultant. "The part I liked best was the driving where I could think of nothing," he muses. But rather than admit this humiliating truth to his family, he now spends every day drifting through the sterile, modern no-man's land of convenience stores, parking lots, and hotel lobbies--a man cut loose from meaning.

The proceedings are clearly suggested by the real-life story of community pillar and career sociopath Jean-Claude Romand, who spent two decades pretending to be a doctor working for the World Health Organization. In fact he was a med school dropout who bilked his family and friends of their savings in get-rich-quick schemes, and then killed to cover up his tracks. Vincent's trajectory is much different--his lies are nascent in comparison--but both stories can be read as cautionary tales about individuals whose inherent hollowness was camouflaged by an increasingly dehumanized workplace.

By confining himself to a chilly palette of grays and blues, and by using Jocelyn Pook's ominous string score with utmost restraint, director Laurent Cantet has crafted a cool and unsettling psychological thriller. But the stunningly complex performance by relative unknown Recoing is what brings Vincent's spiral out of control to vivid life. With his soft face illuminated by exhilarated grins or darkened by shivers of guilt, Vincent glints like metal and glass, but when his lies inevitably catch up with him, he proves to be as empty inside as an office tower at night.