At the start of his prolific career, director François Ozon quickly established himself as the bad boy of French cinema, peeling off a pair of kinky thrillers (See The Sea, Criminal Lovers), a bawdy John Waters-esque comedy (Sitcom), and a dusted-off Rainer Werner Fassbinder adaptation (Water Drops On Burning Rocks). But lately, he's entered a more "mature" phase, shooting mostly reserved, sophisticated dramas like Under The Sand and 5x2, and a couple of genre curveballs—the musical 8 Women and the Hitchcockian thriller Swimming Pool—that all sympathize with the plight of the fairer sex. Sound like a familiar pattern? Maybe that's because Ozon appears to be following Pedro Almodóvar's career arc, though the comparison does this otherwise-fascinating director no favors. Ozon's disappointing new film Time To Leave is his The Flower Of My Secret, a Douglas Sirk-inspired weepie about a terminal cancer victim making amends, but it's a little too sentimental and square even by his recent standards.
As the film opens, gay photographer Melvil Poupaud has it all: a trendy, lucrative career shooting magazine spreads, a devoted live-in boyfriend (Christian Sengewald), and the sort of handsome face that lets him get away with being a bastard. The other shoe drops when Poupaud's doctor informs him that he has a malignant tumor that has metastasized and spread to the point where treatment would only give him the slimmest of chances for recovery. Though Poupaud accepts his fate, he keeps it a secret from his family and his lover, and his self-pity leads him to lash out cruelly at everyone close to him. The only one to escape his wrath is his beloved grandmother Jeanne Moreau, to whom he tearfully confides his illness, since she too is inching closer to death. En route to see Moreau, Poupaud strikes up an immediate rapport with waitress Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, who offers him an unusual opportunity for redemption.
There's nothing egregiously wrong with Time To Leave—it's made tastefully and with restraint, Moreau and Bruni-Tedeschi are both touching in key supporting roles, and the lovely coda ends the film with a satisfying sigh. But this may be the first time that Ozon has played it too safe, leaving little to separate his film from the countless other portraits of dying scoundrels redeemed. It doesn't help that Poupaud comes across as a misty-eyed cipher, unlikeable even when Ozon lays on the childhood flashbacks and he starts to change his wicked ways. Ozon has been known for skillful mimicry in the past—witness See The Sea and the Agatha Christie-inspired 8 Women—but Sirkian melodramas call for passion, and Ozon seems to be going through the motions.