Now streaming on:
Éric Gravel’s “Full Time” follows an ordinary working-class person as they attempt to keep their head above water in a society that seems set up to ensure they will fail at said task. This is the kind of narrative the Dardennes brothers have made a specialty out of in recent years, but here it's done with breakneck pacing that will remind viewers of the similarly headlong “Run Lola Run” while leaving them almost as exhausted as its central character by the time it is all over. Though these two concepts may sound wildly incompatible, "Full Time" looks and sounds like a nail-biting thriller and tells a story that many viewers will be able to relate to on an intensely personal level.
The film’s protagonist is Julie (Laure Calamy), a single mother of two kids. She lives in the suburbs of Paris but commutes into the city for her job as the head chambermaid of a swanky four-star hotel. For her, this is not the ideal situation—she's struggling to make ends meet while waiting for her ex to pay alimony and the nanny (Madame Lusigny) who watches her kids ends up seeing more of them than she does. However, there's one bright light on the horizon in the form of a job opening at a marketing firm that would be a much better fit for her skill set than her current occupation. Getting to the job interview without her supervisor knowing her intentions will require some iffy behavior, including coaxing coworkers to risk their jobs by covering for her. In this case, she figures the risk is worth the reward.
The problem is that Julie is totally dependent on public transportation to get her to and from work. As anyone in the same circumstance can attest, many things can happen with public transit that are theoretically out of your hands but still have enormous repercussions on one’s livelihood. In Julie’s case, a week that's already going to be hectic because of the job interview becomes even more so when a citywide transit strike is called—although she barely seems to pay it any mind when it's being discussed on the news, the reality of its impact hits as the simple act of getting to work, let alone on time, becomes only slightly less fraught than the truck journey in “Sorcerer.” Despite the city being brought to a near-standstill, Julie goes to extraordinary lengths to try to make it work—rushing from one transit terminal to another in the hopes of finding a still-running train or bus, hitchhiking, or using her rapidly dwindling funds to pay for a van rental or a jacked-up cab fare. But she can only keep her metaphorical plates spinning for so long before the inevitable crash.
The notion of applying an action film feel to someone going about their daily routine may seem a bit precious, perhaps even contrived, but it is a conceit that Gravel is able to pay off effectively. From a technical standpoint, the construction of the film is very impressive as both Mathilde Van de Moortel’s editing and Irene Dresel’s score (both of whom received Cesar nominations for their efforts) give the film a sense of real tension right from the get-go and sustains it until the end—even the rare moments when Julie can steal a minute for herself are hardly a respite as we can sense how guilty she feels for even those all-too-brief bits of calm. And while it may sound like a gimmick, anyone who has ever raced to catch the bus to work as it's about to pull away from the stop or has waited on the platform for a late train will easily recognize Julie's pulse-pounding feelings.
At the same time, the film is careful not to completely let her off the hook either, whether in regards to her stubborn determination to be employed in the city despite a horrific commute (in order to live up to her dreams of upward mobility), or her general lack of concern for the motives behind the strike in general, or how her efforts negatively impact everyone from her children to her overtaxed nanny to co-workers who wind up paying the price for her behavior. Although her efforts to better herself are admirable, the same cannot always be said for Julie. It is to the credit of both Gravel’s screenplay and Calamy's performance (which both also received Cesar nominations) that they are willing to paint her as a recognizably flawed human being, and not some kind of cruelly oppressed saint.
“Full Time” does have a couple of problems it doesn’t quite manage to work around. While it's a key plot point that Julie never displays any significant curiosity about the strike that affects her life so profoundly, the film likewise doesn’t seem to have much to say about organized labor, the conditions that would lead to such a paralyzing strike, or whether it's in favor of such actions or not. As a result, the final moments in which Gravel tries to wrap up his story prove unsatisfying when all is said and done. For the most part, however, “Full Time” is an intelligent and mostly engrossing movie about a situation that will seem all too familiar to many. Gravel's film unites quietly observed humanism and palpable tension and somehow makes it work.
Now playing in select theaters.
Laure Calamy as Julie Roy
Anne Suarez as Sylvie
Geneviève Mnich as Mme Lusigny
Nolan Arizmendi as Nolan
Sasha Lemaître Cremaschi as Chloé
Cyril Gueï as Vincent
Cyril Masson as Loueur de voiture
Lucie Gallo as Jeanne Delacroix