Venice 2021: French Thriller 'Full Time' is a Riveting Festival Discovery
by Alex Billington
September 7, 2021
Our modern world is all about hustle, hustle, hustle. Work, work, work. Get out there, bust your ass, never take breaks. That's the only way most people can make money, keep their job, and live their lives in these times. There's no easy way out, especially when there's so many people willing to work and everyone wants a nice job. This French thriller titled À Plein Temps, which translates Full Time, is a story about one woman, a single mother with two young kids, trying to survive a week from hell. It is one of the best films I've seen at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, a riveting and exciting discovery that thrilled me completely. I'm always so glad to stumble across and enjoy films like this, a film that I knew absolutely nothing about until this festival, and haven't heard of before because this is the film's world premiere. But now that I've seen it, I'm happy to rave about it, and hopefully bring some extra attention to it because this film needs to be seen.
Written and directed by filmmaker Eric Gravel, Full Time (À Plein Temps) is about a middle-aged woman named Julie, played by Laure Calamy. The camera focuses on her eyes as she wakes up in the morning, and it's off to the races she goes. She has two young kids, which she helps get ready for school and the day; she works at a fancy hotel in Paris as a cleaning manager; but she also lives far outside of Paris in a small village. She travels into the city by train, and it's a very long commute, but she needs the job and the money and prefers living far away to raise her kids in a nicer place. But this week everything has gone wrong - there are nationwide strikes in France, including public transportation workers. At first there's only a few trains and buses, but eventually those stop, too - and everyone has to hitch rides with those who have cars. Add in all kinds of stress: from the bank, from her boss, a job interview at a big company. Can she pull it all off…?!
Full Time is an amazing little film. I absolutely loved it. This is the next evolution of the Dardenne Brothers cinema and I am all for it. It borrows from the Dardenne playbook by following a propulsive story that has an end point, but it's much more about… will she get there safely? Another critic already pointed out how it's like a Dardenne Brothers film playing at 4x the speed. And that's an accurate description. It's energetic and gripping and extremely tense. I felt so much for Julie, not only for her struggles, but for all that she is trying to do, all that nervousness and anxiety and tension. Can she convince someone to give her a ride? Can she get a taxi? What about all the calls from the bank? What does she tell them? Can she deal with her kids' caretaker, who is getting more and more annoyed at how late she's returning? Why doesn't anyone realize how hard it is to operate during a strike? She needs time to breathe, but barely has a single moment to rest.
The techno-esque score in Full Time is especially outstanding, I really enjoyed how the electro sound from musician Irène Drésel works right into the stressful narrative. I was so on edge watching this, even though I could figure out where it was headed, ohhhh man this was still an intense ride. Laure Calamy is incredible, she is so great in this, carrying all that weight on her shoulders and making it all believable. The whole film is such an absorbing experience, didn't want to breathe until she finally could, too. And that, ultimately, is the entire point of the film. It's a lesson in empathy. My life couldn't be any more different than hers, but I could understand all of her frustration, all of her worries, all of her desires. I wanted her to feel some relief, too. If only we could all understand how much everyone is trying to accomplish, even if their life is not like ours, and empathize with their struggles. So we can help them live the calm life they want; the life they need.