Release Date(s)2021 (August 29, 2023)
Studio(s)Novoprod Cinéma/France 2 Cinéma (Music Box Films/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Character studies are challenging to pull off on screen, since they must be connected to an engaging plot. Viewers become involved when they understand the circumstances that drive the person. Full Time is the gripping story of a woman whose life is a series of mounting stresses.
Julie (Laure Calamy, Call My Agent!) is a recent divorcee and mother of two young children. She commutes daily from the suburbs to her job in Paris, leaving her kids with a neighbor, Madame Lusigny (Genevieve Mnich). Julie is head chambermaid at an exclusive five-star hotel, where she’s in charge of maintaining high standards of cleanliness and order and oversees her own team of cleaning staff. She depends on public transportation to get to work on time and home to pick up her kids when the nanny expects her. The commute is a trial in normal times, but when a transit workers strike throws the whole system into chaos, her days become a frenzy of last-second improvised alternatives that result in lateness and an increasingly frayed relationship with her boss and the nanny.
To further complicate her life, her alimony payment is late and she’s unable to reach her ex-husband by phone. Her mortgage payment and all the other bills are overdue and she’s running short on cash. In the midst of this madness, Julie has applied for a better-paying job at a marketing firm and has to squeeze in an interview by leaving work at the hotel early without authorization.
We feel Julie’s tension and desperation mount as she tries to cope with myriad obstacles. She has a recurring nightmare of being underwater, unable to breathe.
Laure Calamy is absolutely riveting as Julie. We empathize with her immediately. She’s doing everything right but is nonetheless beset by one problem after another that soon converge on her all at once. When her alarm goes off in the morning, she knows she’ll face another hard day, yet gets out of bed and does what she has to. Bucking rush hour crowds, imploring drivers to give her a lift, asking favors of co-workers, begging her boss for a bit of understanding, placating Madame Lusigny, trying again and again to reach her ex for the alimony he owes, and after all that, putting on a confident face at a job interview, are heroic. Much of Calamy’s performance is through reactions. Her expressive face leaves no doubt what she’s thinking in any scene, and her mounting yet controlled stress is conveyed without histrionics, making Julie’s plight all the more unsettling. Calamy delivers a sympathetic and complex performance.
Director Éric Gavel infuses Full Time with a driving, insistent energy that effectively matches Julie’s frantic attempts to keep it all together. In Gavel’s hands, the naturalistic dialogue and mundane routines spin into a suspenseful, panic-inducing thriller—not in the Hitchcockian sense but in the relatable sense as a woman faces the breakdown of what should be ordinary circumstances. As pressures mount, how will Julie make it?
Full Time was captured digitally by director of photography Victor Seguin and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1. (Little other information about filming is provided.) Picture quality is sharp and well detailed, particularly pores on Calamy’s face in close-ups, furnishings in rooms of the hotel, and bright white tiles in a ladies room. There’s some blurring when Julie rushes about her day. Director Éric Gravel favors lots of close-ups during conversations. The color palette tends toward dull hues for the most part, including Julie’s darkened bedroom, the front door of Madame Lusigny’s home, Julie’s deep blue work uniform, the dark blue suit she wears to a job interview, and the multitudes of commuters, which appear to be a mass of grays and browns. Only a red scarf Julie wears to work breaks the monotony of the dull hues of her daily grind. A sunlit outdoor birthday party scene, festive with whites and primary colors, offers a bit of brightness.
Two soundtrack options are presented: French 5.1 or 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. English subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout, with Julie’s manner of speaking often characterized by nervousness (job interview), exasperation (difficulty getting to work) and pleading (apologizing to her children’s caregiver for her repeated lateness). Commuter bustle and traffic noise add to the tension. Irene Dresel’s electronic score perfectly supports the story with its pulsating, fast beat. The electronic music is a reflection of Julie’s state of mind.
Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray release from Music Box Films include the following:
- Audio Commentary by Samm Deighan
- Interview with Éric Gravel (3:30)
- Filmmaker Q&A from the French Institute’s French Film Festival (40:43)
- Isolated Score and Sound Design (87:44)
- Theatrical Trailer (1:42)
- TV Spots (1:46)
Audio Commentary – Full Time is referred to as “a pretty singular accomplishment.” Julie is an Everyman. The film shows how she tries but is “plowed under” by events in her life. She has no male partner and spends a lot of time in transit to and from her job. We see an eventful week in her life. Director Éric Gravel started as a TV cinematographer and then a director. His first feature film was Crash Test Aglae, also starring Laure Calamy. Both films focus on a woman in work. Calamy’s work and her characters in both films are compared. Gravel deals with the shrinking middle class. Julie is trying desperately to remain in the middle class. Little background information about her is provided, other than she’s overqualified for the job of head chambermaid and makes less money than in the jobs she held before having children. Never overacting, Calamy makes Julie’s exhaustion palpable and relatable. She’s a flawed character but not dour or bitter. Most of the people Julie interacts with are women, and their own stresses cause them to act toward her with tension and coldness. Julie’s small inconveniences (taking a cab, staying at a hotel when she’s stranded) cost her money she can ill afford. Neighbor Vincent is friendly, gives her a lift into the city, and repairs her broken boiler. He doesn’t make a sexual overture, and backs off politely when Julie impulsively kisses him in gratitude. At her job interview, she tries to sell herself and convey self-assurance while hiding her desperation. Julie is emblematic of people who have been trying to survive during the last couple of years. Her way of seeing things is distorted by her stress. The ending isn’t a typical happy ending. It offers relief but fails to answer many questions the film has posed. In summation, the commentator notes that Full Time is a “high octane thriller” about a woman struggling to raise her children.
Interview with Éric Gravel – Gravel notes that he wanted to make a film about average people—the kind he saw every morning commuting to work. He made the focus a single mother, a character he felt was not represented realistically on film. He felt Laure Calamy was a good fit for the role and admired her talent.
Filmmaker Q&A from the French Film Festival – Director Éric Gravel is introduced by Festival officials and, after a screening of Full Time, answers questions from the audience. One questioner refers to the film as “engaging, compulsive.” Gravel discusses the character of Julie. She’s one of many who have a stressful life. He refers to his style as “social realism.” Full Time was Gravel’s second film. He wanted to portray Julie as an action hero. He asked the actors to play faster, and edited the film briskly to underscore Julie’s breakneck schedule. When writing the screenplay, Gravel heard “inner music,” a tension-building electronic score. He met with seven electronic music artists, showed them the film, and finally settled on Irene Dresel. Full Time was her first film score. Gravel had no particular actress in mind when he was writing the screenplay. He had seen Lauren Calamy in both comedy and dramatic roles and admired her range. He wanted to portray Julie as inherently decent. He collaborated with Calamy on how the role should be played, and she had confidence in him. She projects dignity and a steady presence. “She’s a rock—she cracks, but she doesn’t break.” The film was shot during COVID-19. There was no traffic or commuters and Gravel had only 50 extras, so he had to look for areas where cars stopped for red lights to simulate traffic jams. Full Time was shot over eight weeks in very cold weather.
Isolated Score and Sound Design – Irene Diesel’s electronic score is heard without dialogue or sound effects as the entire film plays.
Full Time offers a tour-de-force performance by Laure Calamy. As Julie, she’s a woman pushed to the edge who perseveres despite mounting impediments. She meets her responsibilities to her children, her job, and herself while hacking through a thicket of obstacles that would overwhelm many others. This is a great performance and one that should not be overlooked.
- Dennis Seuling