Francois Ozon’s sexuality at times intrigues fans and critics world wide, a reason may be the fact that his films are often littered with a gay character who takes on an important role. "A Time to Leave" is no exception, and moreover within this film it is the gay man that takes centre stage.
"A Time to Leave" is set in chic, modern Paris, where Romain (Melvil Poupaud), an extravagantly handsome gay photographer with a high rising career is suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer. Upon acquiring the news, Romain abandons his high profile job and goes through a self-reflective phase. The film flashes back and forth, showing fragments of his life before and after the knowledge of his diagnosis.
Being a fashion photographer, Romain often has to capture the superficial beauty of the fashion world, of the idea of status, the colours and the attitudes that the clothes and runway models depict. Prior to his self-reflective phase, Romain uses his money and success to drive away his lover, a man of renaissance beauty, and often quarrels with his sister. Going through his self-reflective phase, Romain acquires a different understanding of beauty: a carelessly happy young boy running on the shore with a beach ball; the radiating light of the setting sun, a mother softly breast-feeding her infant, of his lover peacefully sleeping with his belly softly rising and falling, of the honey coloured sunlight pouring through the orange his lover hair, these all take on new poignancy. His newly acquired understanding of beauty also shows in his interactions with his family as Romain subtly says his farewell without really disclosing his condition. Through the various situations which Romain is forced to face, he begins to understand the meaning of humanity and its purposes, his courage to face the end is both beautiful and heart warming.
In "A Time to Leave, Ozon uses a collection of eclectic music, most noticeably ‘a perfect day’ by Lou Reed, in order to capture the tender and fragile moments of the film, delicate melodies of Symphony no. 3 and Fur Aline by the magnificent Estonian composer Arvo Part are also perfect little boats to gently ferry scenes to the audience.
Overall the film is a self-reflection of vanity, youth, and what is often forsaken when one is too busy living in the outer world, a world where success, money and power are highly regarded. A great film, I believe allows you to filtrate from it an emotion, a thought or a philosophy that hadn’t yet surfaced on your mind. In our current society where beauty in appearance, youth and financial status are often celebrated through media while the simple poetry of life and beauty of the heart are often neglected, Ozon cleverly uses ‘A time to leave’ to gently remind us that we don’t have to wait till our endings to start appreciating simplicity of life and its natural poetry. "A Time to Leave" led me to think that the progression of the body, its beauty, is often contrary to the heart. While one is diminishing, fading away, and growing brittle like the autumn branches waiting for the wind to snap it in any moment, the other like a young scarlet rose, blooming and blossoming. Unlike the rose, the beauty of the heart does not die but lingers on, now to be seen in an embrace between a father and his son, a mother and her daughter, a lover and her despair, a playful child and his dog, a man and his ending.