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It’s time for the Tobin tax.
 
Pedal Revolution
LOCAL MOTION: New York rediscovers the virtues of car-free public space.
 
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The West Wing’s workaholics
 
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Amnesty International targets INS for treatment of 9/11 detainees.
 
Half Measures
NGOs reject U.N. Monterrey Consensus.
 
Plan Colombia, globalization stir unrest in Ecuador.
 
House Arrest
Indigenous organizers jailed in Baja California.
 
Political Prisoners
In Person: The Angola Three.
 
BellyWashers Vitamin C Drink.
 

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Cuba Confidential
BOOKS: Cuban literature is back ... and looking for answers.
 
BOOKS: Mark Nesbitt’s short but Gigantic stories.
 
FILM: Taking Time Out from work, identity and reality.
 
Walking the Talk
The living legacy of the radical past.
 

 
March 29, 2002
Busy Doing Nothing
Taking Time Out from work, identity and reality.
Karin Viard and Aurélian Recoing take a little Time Out.

Laurent Cantet’s Time Out confirms everything we expected and were promised from the director’s excellent Human Resources, his 1999 debut film of corporate malfeasance, class struggle and family strife. But this time Cantet deals with a different kind of corporate discontent.

Vincent (Aurélian Recoing) has been dulled by 20 years of corporate conformity. We meet him on the road, catching some shut-eye at a highway rest stop, but later recounting his exploits as a corporate dynamo on his cell phone to his admiring wife. He’s living a lie: Vincent was fired from his job several weeks earlier.

The life that he recounts in such breathless and marvelous detail to his family and friends is the result of his remarkable powers of confabulation. In a masterly act of improvisation, he pretends to have landed a prestigious position as a consultant to a U.N. development agency in Geneva. We see Vincent exploring the clean, glassy and anonymous interiors of the U.N. building, eavesdropping on meetings, smiling at secretaries. Vincent becomes so emboldened that he convinces his family that his new status as a development expert, instrumental in elaborating grand plans to rehabilitate sub-Saharan Africa, has made him a mini-master of the universe—no longer an input in a corporate matrix, but a man doing good.

The more complex his story becomes, the more prone he is to exposure. Inevitably, leaks begin to spring. As elaborate as his new reality is, it doesn’t pay the bills. To do that, he develops a con using his new “diplomatic” status to seduce old schoolmates and former business colleagues into putting money in a fictitious cross-border, get-rich-quick investment scheme. How will he pay the dividends he has promised once the money runs out? How long can he compartmentalize his double life? Borrowed money soon becomes borrowed time.

Cantet has been described rightly as “France’s foremost cinematic poet of the workplace,” but his hand is just as skilled at divining questions of dual and multiple identity, and probing the patrilineal tensions of modern family life. Is Vincent a crushed and humiliated executive—a company man without a company—whose shame at being unemployed explains his elaborate deceit? You certainly feel so at the outset. But as the film continues, we get a strong sense of Vincent as a subversive and affirmative presence—his improvisations are a means to freedom and reinvention. The film’s tragic register comes when his new world collides with the old: a loving wife and family, an overbearing father.

The scenes with Vincent’s wife, Muriel (Karin Viard), particularly on her visit to Switzerland, have a tender, tragic irony. Will she discover his ruse, or has she known all along and is indulging him? There’s moment of pristine cinematic beauty, when she seems to disappear into thin air as she and Vincent get lost in the snow. It signifies the shadow world that Vincent has entered, how his grip on reality has become tenuous, even spectral.

Vincent might be able to pull one over on his family and friends, but the more rogueish and down-at-heel elements in the film figure him out quickly. Jean-Michel (Serge Livrozet) is a smooth career con artist, and the film’s great revelation, the sort of charming bastard you’d find in Jean-Pierre Melville’s films. Livrozet injects paradoxical integrity into the role, something you would expect from the former gangster, prisoner, author, anarchist and protégé of Michel Foucault. Sniffing out Vincent’s game instantly, he’s in a position to turn the tables and make Vincent his mark. But Jean Michel, a former PR man, political fixer and jailbird, has a noble strain in him: He admires the outlaw in Vincent, and invites him to join his cross-border counterfeit goods scheme. In a world of corporate and personal confabulation, fiction and deceit, this old fraudster is the film’s moral center, a beacon of uncomfortable truths.

Time Out—part social document, part noir, part road movie, part tragedy, part meditation on the nature of fiction and reality—has the tension and bearing of one of Claude Chabrol’s rustic and creepy psychological thrillers, as Vincent creates more and more traps for himself. But Time Out doesn’t have a body count: The blows are ultimately directed at the soul. The wounds Cantet’s characters bear, especially Vincent’s, come from the almost irreconcilable tensions of modern corporate life. Is there a way to escape? In a short and very poignant scene at a truck stop, we find Vincent eyeing with envy the nomadic and proletarian life of the truckers. His life will never be theirs. The siren call of bourgeois normality is too powerful.


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