Culture Edinburgh International Film Festival Film

EIFF 2022: Full Time (A Plein Temps) Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Good cinema, in my mind, should tell you its own unqiue personal story whilst also having enough narrative strands for audience members to attach their own experiences onto. Full Time (A Plein Temps) does this, for the most part, aiming by its writer/director Eric Gravel’s admission, to capture the stressful lives of those who commute to and work in a big city. In a wider sense however, Gravel also attempts to comment on a world that has created a system where people feel they need to put themselves through it all in the first place.

Full Time follows approximately a week and half in the life of a French woman named Julie (Laure Calamy), who lives in a village outside of Paris with her two children. She works at a 5-star hotel in the city as the head chambermaid, and as such she is often working long hours, having to call upon the services of the grumbling nanny Madame Lusigny in her stead. Over the course of the 90-minute runtime, Gravel unravels more and more about Julie to us, in a great example of show-not-tell cinema. The key to this approach is that each layer of the character has to be interesting enough on its own, so that we are already engaged in their life when some new aspect is revealed. For example, the segments where all we know of Julie is that she is a single mother working as a chambermaid are intriguing enough as they are due to the interesting characters she works with and venue she works at. Once you add in Julie’s mysteriously estranged husband, the surprising over-qualifications on her CV, all on top of the looming threat threat of strikes disrupting transport, you get a recipe for something totally, overwhelmingly captivating: all the layers subsume and then develop what has come before.

I would describe Full Time as a horror film: its stylistic choices are as unsettling and disturbing as any Blumhouse flick. What this movie does, as well as other notable ‘controlled chaos’ pictures such as Uncut Gems, Shiva Baby and The Humans, is recognise the tension and despair within everyday life. In this case, the monster under the bed is the reality of being a wage slave at the whim of the hefty, clumsy transportation system. Calamy’s performance carries the film,and in a way she is the only proper character per se, everyone else phoning in rather basic, unchallenging turns in order to affect our hero in some manner. 

You could say that the world around Julie is the villain of the piece, the foil to her hero, spiting her when she only wishes to be happy, but in another sense, perhaps it is Julie herself is her own villain, when she subscribes to a system that doesn’t seem to have a place for her, at the cost of her own happiness. It seems ambiguous to me whether Julie is even supposed to be someone we are rooting for. We usually wish for our primary character to succeed, but it seems apparent from what Gravel himself said in the Q&A following the UK premiere that we shouldn’t be applauding success in a system that is as flawed as this one. Julie seems to represent more an ideology than a person within her own right, robbing the story of some narrative punch whilst simultaneously lending the movie its particularly resonant tone.

The soundtrack and camerawork feel at times very derivative of the Safdie Brothers’ output, but Gravel asserts that this is less of an homage and more of a coincidence, perhaps even a sign that his work is tapping into a richer vein than he realised: the prevalent usage of pumping synth bass lines, over the shoulder blurry cameras, and storylines that turn up the volume on the horror of the inane signal that we don’t need vampires and ghosts when we have the 9am commute and calls with our boss. Full Time is really quite adept at getting its point across, and while it does not reinvent the wheel, it gives it a bloody good spin. 

A Plein Temps had its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on August 17th.

Press Image courtesy of EIFF.