Full Time. M, 88 minutes. Five stars.
I've reviewed dozens of horror films over the years and I have to say that I can't remember a slasher or gore-porn or chainsaw massacre that had my stomach in my throat, had me lifting my feet up off the cinema floor, had my pulse racing quite as much as this French art-house film about a mother juggling a job and two children in the middle of a public transport strike in Paris.
Single mum Julie (Laure Calamy) wakes every day before the sun in her charming cottage in a rural village in the countryside ringing the city of Paris. Her kitchen is bright and warm as she makes her two primary-school-aged children, Nolan and Chloe (Nolan Arizmendi and Sasha Lemaitre Cremachi), swallow down cereal and get dressed before she drops them to the home of neighbour Madame Lusigny (Genevieve Mnich), who gets the kids to school and home again each day,
Usually Julie boards the train into the city for a full day as head chambermaid in a five-star boutique hotel, and is home to cook the children dinner and read them stories before bed.
But in Paris, the transport workers are striking, and the first casualty are the inbound trains. Julie's working day, before she even ties on her apron at the hotel, becomes a juggle of temporary buses, racing for a seat against hundreds of other regional commuters trying to get into the city.
As the transport strike continues into multiple days, and the inner-city Metro closes down and the streets begin to fill with garbage as the garbage collectors are also on strike, the planning and negotiating Julie needs to navigate her day become increasingly complicated.
It takes hitch-hiking and Uber-ing and a lift from a compassionate neighbourhood parent to get into Paris and home again, but home to an increasingly upset Madame Lusigny who finds herself feeding the children dinner and sometimes having to take them overnight when the transport options become impossible.
Compounding an already impossible situation for Julie are her calls to the children's dad going straight to voicemail, him not having made an alimony payment for months, and her bank account emptying out.
And then, Julie has an interview, and then a call-back interview, for a marketing position that might actually use her master's degree, for a company on the other side of Paris, meaning swapping out shifts with her subordinates, against the wishes of her supervisor, Sylvie (Anne Suarez).
That's not plot so much as it is situation, but this film is meticulously plotted, just like Julie's days. Writer-director Eric Gravel does not allow for one spare second, both in movement and economical dialogue.
It's like watching your rear-view mirror as a car is about to crash into you and you're powerless, in your cinema seat, to do anything about it. It's an adrenaline-pumping viewing experience.
Music and editing work together like a metronome to maintain a frenetic pace. There's nowhere for Julie to snatch a moment to herself, nor an outlet for her anxiety over the wellbeing of her children. Irene Dresel's electronic score works with industrial noises, taking us to the city and the sense of entrapment felt by its denizens.
The Venice Film Festival Jury handed Laure Calamy an award for her performance here, and most deservedly so. She holds us the whole way through, single muscles moving in her face betraying the maelstrom going in inside this woman on the edge.
The French love their working-class heroes in their literature and cinema and Gravel builds a marvellous new hero in Julie.
Any parent will be familiar with the fear of an impending daycare closing time and a challenging traffic situation, the eye pacing from clock to the brake lights of the car ahead.
It's never fun, but as a cinema experience happening to someone else, fascinating.
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