Time Out (2001)

What separates Time Out from the recent spate of “disillusioned upper-middle-class white guy has a breakdown” movies is writer/director Laurent Cantet’s interest in the specific economic forces that lead — some would say inevitably — to such discontent. Aurélien Recoing plays Vincent, recently fired from a position he had held unhappily for more than a decade. Ashamed of his failure and unable to escape nagging anxieties, Vincent reinvents himself as an imagined UN employee, while bilking friends out of investment capital that will, he assures them, return steep profits in Africa’s “emerging markets.”

American treatments of this theme tend to elide the messy problems of multinational capitalism — the massive systems of exploitation and profit that reify workers at every stage. Cantet refuses to let us off so easily. Employing an odd mixture of Hitchcockian logic and late-Bressonian critique, he drops us instantly into a world of systematic victimization where the conflation of financial and humanitarian interests, now indistinguishable from one another in our contemporary public discourse, is exposed as fraudulent and disastrous. Unlike, say, American Beauty, which (satire or not) encourages us to take delight in Lester’s impotent rebellion, Time Out forces us to suffer alongside our representative hero. Whereas Lester gets to experience something like grace (or so the film’s defenders would argue), Vincent’s fate is determined, once again, by market forces. As his wealthy and influential father tells him in the penultimate scene, “Money problems can always be solved.”