The second in a planned trilogy of films about death and grief (the first was 2000's UNDER THE SAND), Francois Ozon's rigorously unsentimental portrait of a 31-year-old fashion photographer who abruptly learns that he has only a few months to live is an icy antidote to the bromide that the embrace of impending mortality is the gateway to spiritual evolution....read more
The second in a planned trilogy of films about death and grief (the first was 2000's UNDER THE SAND), Francois Ozon's rigorously unsentimental portrait of a 31-year-old fashion photographer who abruptly learns that he has only a few months to live is an icy antidote to the bromide that the embrace of impending mortality is the gateway to spiritual evolution. And though it superficially resembles MY LIFE WITHOUT ME (2003), in which a young wife and mother (Sarah Polley) chooses to prepare for her demise in secret, it's a far chillier piece of work. After fainting during a rooftop fashion shoot, handsome, successful Romain (Melvil Poupaud) is ready for bad news. "Is it AIDS?" he asks. It's not: It's cancer, it's metastasized, and without treatment he has 0% of surviving. With aggressive radiation and chemotherapy his odds improve to 5%, so Romain decides to meet death on his own terms. He confides in no one but his grandmother (Jeanne Moreau), reasoning that she'll understand his attitude because she's also close to the end of the road. They have far more in common than that: Neither hesitates to put him- or herself first, which makes both either stunningly selfish or bracingly pragmatic, depending on where you stand. Romain cancels a lucrative shoot in Japan, harshly breaks things off with his boyfriend, Sasha (Christian Sengewald), picks a vicious fight with his unhappy sister, Sophie (Louise-Anne Hippeau), insulting her small children and cutting off his supportive parents (Daniel Duval, Marie Riviere). Emotionally unencumbered, he cruises, drinks, drugs and thinks about how he got from there — an apparently mischievous, privileged and carefree childhood — to here. Ozon's pitch isn't perfect: Romain's visions of himself as a child are jarring and a subplot involving a rest-stop waitress (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) who desperately wants a child is awkwardly introduced, though it builds to an affecting payoff. The film rests entirely on Poupaud's shoulders, and he rises to the demands of a complex, deeply unsympathetic role. Growing visibly thinner as Romain's illness progresses, he never goes for the easy emotion: Romain softens slightly as the end approaches, but Poupaud never tries to make him conventionally likable. Romain is ruthlessly true to himself, and the film's final scene, which begins on a crowded beach and ends as everyone who can goes home, is stunningly haunting.
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