FULL TIME – Review by Jennifer Green

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Full Time (À Plein Temps) is a movie that is so well-structured and so naturally acted it completely absorbs you. Its rapid-fire pace, especially through the first hour, is supported by an extremely efficient editing that trims away anything superfluous and leaves a lean, quick and meaningful film where every scene matters, even the flash of maids whipping apron ties closed. Look away and you miss something.

The surprise here is what a compelling and tense experience writer-director Eric Graval and editor Mathilde Van de Moortel (Mustang) construct out of a superficially limited storyline and solitary main character.

Star Laure Calamy (North American audiences might recognize her from the French series Call My Agent!) plays single mother Julie, struggling to make ends meet. Her ex is late on his alimony payments and not picking up his phone, the bank keeps calling about late mortgage payments, and a national transportation strike means her already-long commute from a village into Paris for her job as a 5-star hotel lead chambermaid has become nearly impossible.

Meanwhile, she’s applied for a market research job that would use her actual training and skills, but getting away from the watchful eyes of her boss and moving across town for interviews with the strike on, stopping midway to buy a suit and purse to wear to the interview, create yet more challenges. She’s treading on thin ice with everyone – her boss, her colleagues covering for her and her elderly nanny, who has the kids from before dawn to after sun-down.

Julie is constantly on the move. In the film’s opening scene, we hear her deep, slow breathing as the camera slowly pans up her arm to her face, asleep. But not for long, as her alarm soon goes off and – boom! – Julie is up and running. And she doesn’t stop moving again until she collapses into bed at night.

What might otherwise be a punchline of French public sector jokes, the Parisian transportation (and, apparently, trash) strike provokes dire consequences in Julie’s life. We see her running to catch trains, running to catch substitute buses when trains are canceled, hitchhiking with strangers, spending money she doesn’t have on taxis and rental cars.

The film brings the precarious circumstances of laborers to urgent reality through the characters of Laure and her fellow maids. And that fragility is accentuated for a single mother. When she literally has no physical way home, Julie’s young children have to stay with the increasingly disgruntled nanny or with friends. In between her sprints across town, she veers off to plan her son’s birthday party, buy invitations and party favors and apply for a store card to purchase a trampoline on layaway.

It’s impossible not to feel her stress, and Calamy conveys this physically and in the smallest of gestures – darting eyes, furrowed brows, sweat beading up on her forehead. No less exhausting, she is perpetually having to charm people into giving her second, third and more chances – all due to circumstances largely out of her control, or to her attempts to better her own life with a professional, ostensibly better-paying job.

A score of increasingly up-tempo synthesizer music adds to the tension. “You never stop!” a friend says to her. This comes at around the one-hour mark, and soon after that, circumstances do force her to slow down. You still feel something has to break, and in fact it does – but perhaps not what you expect.

Without wanting to give too much away, the ending brings a certain relief to Julie’s accumulated frustration and stress. You understand completely when she breaks down in sobs in the film’s final scene. That’s when she — and viewers — can finally take a breath.

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Jennifer Green

Jennifer Green is a regular contributor to Common Sense Media, The Hollywood Reporter, The Seattle Times and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was Screen International's correspondent in Spain for ten years. She launched the newspaper column and website Films from Afar to curate international films available for home streaming. She has served on film festival juries across Spain and North Africa and teaches journalism and film to university students.