This French standout turns a single mother and five-star hotel chambermaid's hectic daily routine into a relentless thriller.
July 28, 2022
Perhaps the greatest trick the devil ever pulled — the devil that is time, the fact that we all have to get out of bed each and every morning, and the sleep-killing noise signalling that a new day is here — was to create alarm clocks in a variety of sounds. Some are quiet, soft, calming and even welcoming, rather than emitting a juddering screech, but the effect always remains the same. Whatever echoes from which device, if your daily routine is a treadmill of relentless havoc, that din isn't going to herald smiles or spark a spring in anyone's step. The alarm that kickstarts each morning in Full Time isn't unusual or soothing. It isn't overly obnoxious or horrifying either. But the look on Laure Calamy's face each time that it goes off, in the split second when her character is remembering everything that her day will bring, is one of pure exhaustion and exasperation — and it'd love to murder that unwanted wake-up siren.
That expression couldn't be more relatable, as much in Full Time is, even if you've never been a single mother living on the outskirts of Paris, navigating a train strike, endeavouring to trade up one job for another for a better future, and juggling kids, bills, and just getting to and from work. At the 2021 Venice International Film Festival, Antoinette in the Cévennes and Call My Agent! star Calamy won the Best Actress award in the event's Horizons strand for her efforts here — and while the accolade didn't come her way for a single gaze, albeit repeated throughout the movie, it easily could've. Mere minutes into Full Time, it's plain to see why she earned herself such a prize beyond that withering gape, however. Calamy is that phenomenal in this portrait of a weary market researcher-turned-hotel chambermaid's hectic life, playing the part like she's living it. In our own ways, most of us are.
The first time the alarm sounds, Julie Roy (Calamy) is already lethargic and frustrated; indeed, writer/director Eric Gravel (Crash Test Aglaé), who won the Venice Horizons Best Director gong himself, charts the ups and downs of his protagonist's professional and personal situation like he's making an unflagging thriller. In fact, he is. Julie is stretched to breaking point from the get-go, and every moment of every day seems to bring a new source of stress. For starters, her job overseeing the cleaning at a five-star hotel in the city is both chaotic and constantly throwing up challenges, and the hints dropped by her boss (Anne Suarez, Black Spot) about the punishment for not living up to her demands — aka being fired — don't help. Julie has put all her hopes on returning to market research anyway, but getting time off for the interview is easier said than done, especially when the French capital is in the middle of a transport strike that makes commuting in and out from the countryside close to impossible.
Also adding to Julie's troubles is well, everything. The childcare arrangement she has in place with a neighbour (Geneviève Mnich, Change of Heart) is also precarious, thanks to threats of quitting and calling social services. Having any energy to spend meaningful time with her children at the end of her busy days is nothing but a fantasy, too. Trying to get financial support out of her absent ex is a constant battle, especially given he won't answer the phone — and the bank won't stop calling about her overdue mortgage payments. It's also her son Nolan's (J'ai tué mon mari) birthday, so there are gifts to buy, plus a party to organise and throw. Julie is so frazzled that having a drink with her best friend is a luxury she doesn't have time for, because some other task always beckons. And when a father from her village, the kindly Vincent (Cyril Gueï, The Perfect Mother), helps her out not once but twice, she's so starved of affection that she instantly misreads his intentions.
All of this might sound mundane, and like the kind of thing that plenty of people deal with — and that's partly the point. Full Time hones in on the rush, hustle and bustle to impress how fraught this vision of normality is, and how draining. It isn't by accident that the film is nerve-wracking and sweat-inducing to watch. Gravel shows why that tired stare when the alarm goes off is the only thing that someone in Julie's situation can possibly sport. With the marvellous Calamy proving indefatigable at playing fatigued, the filmmaker truly sees his central character, her stresses and that she's at her wits' end, and he makes his audience feel every aspect of her struggle. One such tactic, as straightforward as it is, couldn't be more effective: for Calamy and for the frames that capture her alike, there's simply no rest.
Every sharp, cold, tourism-flouting shot by cinematographer Victor Seguin (Gagarine) ripples with tension and drips with anxiety, including extreme closeups of Julie slumbering and hurtling almost-chase sequences as she flits around; her plight, and the nonstop slog, is inescapable. That keeps ringing true as she scrambles everywhere — her rustic cottage, which she'd clearly like to spend more time in; the route to her local railway station, even though the trains are barely running; and her workplace, where she's at her most composed in her pristine maid's uniform, although it can't mask her inner turmoil. On the Parisian streets, she's frequently sprinting; calling the movie Run Julie Run instead would've fit. Visually, every image that graces Full Time adds to the bubbling, broiling pressure cooker, so much so that feeling like only a tragic end can come — and desperately hoping and praying otherwise — ramps up the intensity for viewers.
Calling the end result frenetic and kinetic still doesn't completely capture what a blood pressure-raising experience Full Time is, while remaining devastatingly empathetic and insightful; if The Worst Person in the World met Uncut Gems, it might look like this. The rhythm amplified by editor Mathilde Van de Moortel (Mustang) doesn't give up, and the score by first-time composer Irène Drésel earns the same description. A wealth of feelings and ideas linger along the way — the ever-swirling array of roles that Julie has to play, which makes Calamy's performance all the more remarkable; the intimate and sensory dive that Gravel takes, ensuring that the full brunt of Julie's experiences is unavoidable; and how the character's tussles and vulnerabilities, and the strike for better working conditions, run in parallel. One of the great feats that Full Time achieves: making all of this linger, and this exceptional feature in general, the next time that your own alarm goes off.
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