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FALLING DOWN WITH THE JOB

'Time Out' is about a broken man and his failed dream

When a man is successful, with the requisite beautiful wife, proud parents, fresh-faced kids and great big house, what happens to him when he loses his job? How does he hold it all together?

When it happens to Vincent, the central character in Laurent Cantet's mesmerizing psychological drama 'Time Out,' he simply refuses to accept his new circumstances and pretends that everything is still the same Ñ and digs himself in deeper and deeper as he works to maintain that lie.

We first meet Vincent (AurŽlien Recoing) as he cheerfully awakens after spending the night in his car. He takes a call from his wife, Muriel (Karin Viard), who's under the impression that he's away on a business trip.

As the day wears on, he keeps up the pretense through phone calls, assuring her that he's between meetings, griping about his workload and playing the harried executive.

But Vincent has been unemployed for more than three months, and during his lengthy 'business trips' he's been doing nothing more than driving around the French countryside in his car, getting his meals from convenience stores and sleeping in roadside rest stops.

'Time Out' is, on the surface, a film about a man going through a peculiar sort of nervous breakdown. He confesses at one point that his favorite part of his old job had been the driving, and that part of the reason he was fired was because he'd just stay on the highway, drive past his exit and miss his meetings. Which is really what Vincent is doing during this self-imposed sabbatical; when asked why he never told his wife he was fired, Vincent says, 'I don't know. Maybe it was just easier to keep going.'

'Time Out' also resonates on a deeper level, however, speaking to those of us who toil to maintain our middle-class lives, who put our shoulder to the grindstone every day to pay the bills and gain the respect of our families and society Ñ to be, in a word, responsible, even as we fear it is eroding our spirit.

Vincent lies to his wife and even turns down opportunities to work, all the while keeping up his elaborate charade because he desperately needs to be seen as the breadwinner. The illusion that he's taking care of his family Ñ and the respect that affords him Ñ has become more important than anything else.

Awarded 'Lion of the Year' at last fall's Venice Film Festival, 'Time Out' is a cold, frightening film about a man slowly being strangled by his own web of deceit. As Vincent, Recoing gives us a man who is repellent in his treatment of his family, yet curiously courageous for all his twisted, inexcusable behavior.

We may not approve of Vincent, but it's certain that most of us will understand him.