Time to Leave (2006): Ozon’s Tribute to Douglas Sirk (LGBTQ, Gay)

Inspired by the classic 1950s Douglas Sirk melodramas (“All That Heaven Allows,” “Imitation of Life”), which revolve around the oppression and suffering of women, Francois Ozon adds a unique modern spin by making the suffering centerpiece a gay man.

Parisian photographer Romain (Melvil Poupaud) seems to have the perfect life: a great career, an adoring boyfriend and a beautiful apartment. This all changes when he suddenly learns he only has a few months to live. Living his life on the edge of glamour, Romain must choose whom to disclose his secret to and find closure with his family, including his beloved bohemian grandmother Laura (Jeanne Moreau).

French heartthrob Melvil Poupauds credits include James Ivorys LE DIVORCE and Raoul Ruizs TIME REGAINED. The film re-teams Ozon with his 5×2 star, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi as Romains newfound confidant.

Inspiration for the story

It all started with an idea to do a trilogy about mourning. The trilogy began with “Under the Sand,” a “tearless melodrama” about coping with the death of a loved one. “Time to Leave” is about coping with one’s own death. And the third installment, which I may make someday, will address the death of a child.

Under the Sand Vs. Time to Leave

In Under the Sand, Jean’s death is not confirmed, so we can choose not to believe it, we can deny its existence. In Time to Leave death is a reality, a certitude. I didn’t want to leave any room for ambiguity about Romain’s chances for survival; there are none. That is why I chose terminal cancer. And the fact that the character is young makes his illness all the more cruel. There is no suspense or mystery about it. As opposed to Under the Sand, where we never see Jean drown and there is no cadaver. With Time to Leave on the other hand, I wanted to see the body dying, I wanted to accompany Romain on his journey toward death and explore the different phases he goes through, from anger to denial to acceptance.

Romain’s Approach to Death

In contrast to Les Nuits Fauves (Savage Nights), where the condemned hero explodes with vitality and desire. Personally, I am more moved by Herv Guibert’s approach to illness and death, in his writing but also in his beautiful film La pudeur ou limpudeur (Modesty and Shame). For my film, I had no desire to present a character doing extraordinary things. I wanted to show the concrete reality of the situation: how do you live when you know you are going to die How do you feel, what choices do you make For example, just because he’s got a noose around his neck doesn’t mean Romain will make peace with his family. Hes more interested in making peace with himself. Romain is generally detaching himself from others. He is deliberately unpleasant to his boyfriend Sasha, insulting him and provoking a separation in order to help him move on, to symbolically mourn the end of their relationship, even if this means Sasha is likely to suffer guilt later. Romain’s behavior is a double-edged sword. Like Marie in Under the Sand, he’s not a hero, he’s just a human being trying to do the best he can in a terrible situation.

Refusal to make heroic characters

I wanted to demystify the romantic notion of death as a sanctifier. If Romain does attain a certain form of heroism, it happens indirectly, on a very personal level. He is more interested in what he is going to leave behind than in making peace with others. Romain is a relatively egocentric, cruel character. He decides not to tell his loved ones about his condition, thus leaving them unprepared, which means his death will cause them that much more suffering. But after all, why shouldn’t Romain have the right to choose how he will die He makes a conscious decision to embrace his solitude and answer only to himself. He does confide in his grandmother, someone he can easily relate to. For me, the scene between Romain and his grandmother is the heart of the film.

Facing death.

It is often said that when people grow old they become children again. Naturally, I couldn’t help thinking of Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, however I chose to show simple moments, nothing extraordinary or significant. Just childhood images that come in flashes. I wanted moments, expressions, very few words, an atmosphere, and some sensations. Perhaps the childhood images that haunt Romain are helping him accept the child within him, so he can let go.

Romain’s decisions

It is clear to me that Romain has no chance for survival. In an earlier version of the screenplay, the doctor explains to Romain in no uncertain terms that he is condemned to die and advises him to make the most of his last months. He doesn’t even suggest a treatment. But when I asked a reputed cancer specialist to read the scene, he told me that from an ethical point of view, a doctor has no right to say such a thing. He must always give the patient some hope, even if deep down he knows there is none. I rewrote the scene with this in mind, so it would be credible. But I had no interest in showing Romain doing research on his illness and gradually coming to the conclusion that he has no chance of survival. It’s a hard, cold fact that is set out explicitly at the beginning of the film, and I did not want to spend any more time on it.

Romain’s profession as photographer

At first, Romains photography is superficial. He works in fashion; his job is about capturing ephemeral images. But photography takes on a deeper meaning for Romain when he learns he is going to die. Suddenly, it has another dimension. Now his profession seems like it was meant to be, not just a random choice. Like being a cinephile, being a photographer can be somewhat morbid. Making, developing, storing and collecting images are all ways of fighting against time, trying to keep it at bay.

Favoring women

Melodramas about men are extremely rare, and more often than not they are children or old men. The emotions and interiority of melodramas are generally carried by women. For this film, I wanted to try a masculine melodrama; I wanted to see if this young man’s story could solicit tears, which meant I would need to eroticize the actor. It is important for the audience to “fall in love” with Romain, so they can empathize with him and accept his journey. Perhaps this is why I chose Jeanne Lapoirie as director of photography. I wanted a woman’s view of Melvil, with lighting that would emphasize his beauty.

Casting Melvil Poupaud

I’ve always liked Melvil’s rather distant presence on screen, especially in Rohmer’s Conte d’Et (A Summer’s Tale). He is the only male lead in the 4 Seasons series, and Rohmer filmed him with the same grace and eroticism as he filmed the young women.I had auditioned Melvil for several of my earlier films, but it was when he invited me to a screening of his video shorts that something really clicked. I was moved by his work, it reminded me of the Super-8 films I made as a teenager. And I loved the fact that he has been filming himself since childhood, he’s got this natural rapport with the camera.
I felt this hands-on approach to cinema was something we had in common. And indeed, he rapidly understood and accepted my way of making films. He was involved in the project early on, and has followed all the stages closely, from writing to editing. I find I am increasingly drawn to actors who really invest themselves in their projects. We don’t make films alone, and I need their help, I rely on them to embody the characters and help me discover what I want to say, what sensations I want to transmit. I want to work with them, not against them.

Jeanne Moreau

I always dreamed of doing a film with Jeanne Moreau, and she’s the only French actress missing from “8 Women,” though her presence is felt in Emmanuelle Bart’s maid costume, a reference to her work in Bunuel’s “Diary of a Chambermaid.”

Jeanne is another actor who is very close to her directors. Like Melvil, she was involved early on, during the preparation stages. She likes to enter the rhythm of a film as it is being created. She is a very generous actor and needs to be enormously involved. I think she has a fascination with directing, and a great deal of respect for it. She really fleshed out her character, she gave her a past. She’d give me her opinions and ideas, she’d tell me about books she loved. Working with her was a wonderful experience. The affection and complicity we had is reflected in the film, in the relationship between Romain and his grandmother.

Daniel Duval as Romain’s father

I’ve always loved his powerful presence on screen. I think it’s regrettable he tends to be typecast as a bad guy. I wanted him to play a well-established man, comfortably middle class, intellectual. I had him grow a beard; I wanted to transform him a little. I needed Romains rather absent father to be handsome and charismatic, and at the same time deeply marked by life. His face speaks volumes. So does Jeanne Moreau’s. The people in Romain’s life have very few scenes, so they must exist in the limited space of time they are on screen. This is also true for Marie Rivire who, like Melvil, comes from Rohmer’s family of actors.

Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi

We became close on “5X2,” and she amicably followed the screenwriting process for Time to Leave. I had her in mind when I wrote the Jany character, but didn’t tell her. When she read the screenplay, she immediately liked Jany. She was moved by her simplicity, her naivet, and her earthiness. Jany reminded Valeria of Shirley MacLaine in Some Came Running.

Romain’s lover Sasha

Gay couples are still relatively rare on screen and people can be easily put off by them. If the actor is too handsome, they say it’s a clich. But if he’s ugly, they say it’s not credible…I wanted Romain’s lover to have a strangeness about him, an unusual beauty that echoes Romain’s interest in photography, his taste for people who are different, physically intriguing. I saw Christian in a play in Germany and I liked his presence, the texture of his skin, his childlike, pre-Raphaelite quality. The fact that he’s a foreigner adds a certain naivet to his character. He has no idea how much Romain is suffering.

The music

I gravitated towards very pure music with religious undertones: Arvo Part, Silvestrov. In the beginning there isn’t much music, just a little, to enhance the childhood moments. But music gradually seeps into the film as Romain reconciles with the world around him. There is something necessarily sacred about Romain’s journey. He’s in a church when he reminisces about his sexual identity. It seemed to me that Romain should confront his feelings about spirituality, the afterlife, and all the metaphysical questions that invariably arise in such a situation.


It may seem strange to use CinemaScope for such an intimate subject, but it’s perfect for filming the horizon, horizontal positions, and death. It forced me to frame my shots differently, tell the story differently. Often with CinemaScope, you have to shoot either very close, or very wide. Medium shots don’t work too well. And there is very little depth of field. While I was playing around with focus, I discovered I could create dramatic intensity in unexpected ways. Like in the scene in the park with the sister on the phone. It allowed me to get closer than ever to the actors. I could really study their faces; their eyes took on greater importance.

Romain’s changing character

I wanted Romain to be completely anonymous at the end. When he finds himself in the middle of the beach, surrounded by bodies that are full of life and insouciance, there is a visual contrast that I was especially interested in capturing. Lying on the beach myself, I’ve often pondered all the bodies lying around me. “What if somebody here doesn’t get up What if he isn’t sleeping, or getting a tan, what if he’s dead” Before I started writing, I had this image in my head of a body all alone at the end of the day, after everyone else has gone home, with the tide rising. Someone who has been forgotten on the beach. I could almost say that this image is what inspired me to make the film. I didn’t know exactly what it meant; I just knew it would suggest a certain acceptance of things. Romain does not create a mise-en-scene around his death, he abandons himself to it.

Beach as recurring symbol

Beaches are timeless spaces, they provide abstraction and purity. I’ve evoked these things in my other films, but I wanted to come back to the sunset idea, which some people found ironic in 5X2. It wasn’t ironic for me, but I understand how people might take it that way. For the sunset scene in Time to Leave, I didn’t want there to be any ambiguity.