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Full Time
(À Plein Temps)

Director – Eric Gravel – 2021 – France – Cert. 12a – 87m

*****

A single mum with two young kids struggles to hold her working life together in a Paris where the transport network in and out of the city is paralysed by strikes – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 26th

The brief moment of calm at the start gives little indication of the relentless nature of what is to follow. Julie Roy (Laure Calamy) sleeps deeply, a figure at rest, as we watch parts of her face in close-ups. Suddenly, this tranquillity is shattered by the aural violation of the quiet by an alarm clock. As she gets the kids up, the radio blares out something about an increase in working hours and something else about the welfare state. The impression is of the microcosm of her life and the macrocosm of the wider world (France) in a state of crisis. She bundles her kids off to the child-minder’s and boards a pre-dawn train to Paris. The train is terminated because of an unwell passenger, so she has to switch to a bus to get to St. Lazare, and as she is trying to get to The Churchill, the luxury hotel where she works as a head chambermaid, she must fend off a mobile phone call about her mortgage repayments.

When she enters the building, she is confronted by her stressed boss Sylvie (Anne Suarez) and informed that she has a new team member Lydia (Mathilde Weil) to train this week. But first, she must sort out the room of Platinum Guest Mr. Yoshida, who arrives earlier than expected, manage a non-stop workload with her team, chase her ex who she can’t reach on the phone about her alimony that hasn’t yet been paid this month, and placate child minder Mme. Lusigny over the phone when it looks like there are going to be problems with the trains getting her home at the expected pickup time.

In addition to everything described above, as the week continues, Julie will also have to contend with an interview for a marketing job she really wants and a transport system brought to a standstill by strikes whilst holding down a job where not only can it be difficult to get time off work but the nature of what she does means she can’t afford to arrive late or take time off because her constant presence is required. On top of this, things will finally come to a head with the ageing Mme. Lusigny (Geneviève Mnich), who has had enough and wants to stop looking after Julie’s kids, there won’t be time to get a trampoline delivered in time for her the birthday party of her young son Nolan (Nolan Arizmendi) so she’ll have to rent a van and transport it herself, and he’ll have an accident o the trampoline which means she’ll have to take him to the hospital to get patched up.

This drama about an ordinary woman trying to survive all the pressures that modern Western life can throw at her is accompanied by a pounding electronic score by Irène Drésel which subtley underscores the proceedings with a non-stop, sense of urgency. With restless, constantly in motion camerawork by Victor Seguin and razor-sharp editing by Mathilde Van de Moortel, it feels like an edge of the seat thriller and yet there are no real trappings of that genre – no criminal persons or acts, no race against time, just a terrible sense of pressure and the impossibility of the heroine’s getting done everything that needs to be done. What comes over is the moment by moment struggle of Julie to survive the rat race at its worst, a system creaking at the seams as workers in a position to strike do so to express their discontent while others such as Julie and her co-workers whose work situation does not afford them that luxury attempt to carry on in impossible conditions.

Even as Julie’s individual plight grips the viewer, helped no end by Calamy’s nuanced, pressurised performance, you sense that the film is about far more than just her and her situation; it has its finger on something of what’s gone wrong with the work-obsessed Western world in recent decades. How can we live like this? The film scarcely gives you time to pause and take a breath while you’re watching it, but afterwards, such questions loom large. It may be one of the best films you’ll see this year, but that achievement may pale beside the thoughts and questions it’s likely to provoke after viewing. An absolute must-see.

Full Time is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, May 26th.

Trailer:

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