- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Jan
Watch for a low-profile film from France making its way around the country.
Director Laurent Cantet's film is a haunting character study of Vincent, a man who has everyone (including his family) fooled. He has convinced them that he is a successful businessman making a career change. In fact, he claims to be taking a job with the U.N. But in reality, Vincent has been laid off, and he is spending his days driving around in the French countryside alone, watching people and taking naps in hotel parking lots.
While Vincent seems almost psychotic at times, the film's brilliant trick is to make us envy him. He seems to have discovered a freedom, a perpetual vacation. By living a lie, he is able to voyeuristically enjoy the city and the highway, without the stress of a job, without real deadlines or pressures. One early scene crystallizes the quality of his happiness—he drives along in his plush sedan, parallel to a crowded commuter train, chuckling with smug satisfaction as he observes the crowded masses on their way to tedious day-jobs. The car is his bubble, his security.
But one can only live in such denial for so long. As Vincent slowly learns the cost of his freedom, he is drawn dangerously close to the edge of madness. One moment, he's sneaking into an office building just to see how far he can go before he is stopped. The next, he finds himself entangled in crime. Actor Aurelien Recoing gives what will be remembered as one of the finest performances of the year, giving Vincent a variety of subtle twitches and false smiles that keep us on edge. Even when he's draws from previous employment experience to fabricate his identity, we're not sure if he every really worked anywhere at all. He's one of cinema's all-time great liars, and the story brings him to the inevitable consequences.
Some moviegoers may find it slow-going. Cantet takes his time, letting us become almost comfortable in Vincent's presence, then shocking us with the audacity of his lies and his willingness to deceive his loved ones. But the film is not just about one man's journey into denial. It is also about work, about the way that modernization drives us to tedious tasks and makes us feel unimportant. In this light, family, intimacy, humility, and honesty shine through as sources of life and purpose in a crowded world of lonely people.
J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) calls it thought-provoking, and says the film "forces the audience to contemplate the nature of the global economy and the role of work/vocation in its expansion. What is meaningful work? What are our responsibilities?" It also explores "why a man would resort to such an outlandish and ultimately fruitless lie."
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat (Spirituality and Health) say, "Cantet draws out a bravura performance from Recoing. This involving French film vividly conveys the soul-shattering debilitations of unemployment and the spunk needed to survive while adrift in the universe."