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By Rich Cline | May 22, 2002

From a deceptively simple premise, this deeply moving French drama develops a startling story that works both as a detailed personal portrait and as a rather frightening examination of modern times. Vincent (Aurelien Recoing)has never told his wife (Karin Viard) that he was fired from his job. Instead, he invents a series of meetings and then a whole new job to explain his busy daily schedule … while we know he’s just driving around aimlessly, sleeping in his car when he claims to be travelling on business.
To support his lie, he convinces his parents (Monique and Jean-Pierre Mangeot) and his former friends (Christophe Charles and Maxime Sassier, among others) to invest in a money-making scheme he’s invented. Then a hotel owner (Serge Livrozet) figures him out and offers a solution.
There’s a fierce authenticity to this film that keeps us glued to the screen, despite the fact that nothing much happens on screen during the long running time. Recoing’s performance is a marvel of understatement and natural off-handedness — Vincent’s so good at acting relaxed that the film generates suspense from the opening scene. He goes awol and binges on fantasy instead of the drugs or sex that accompany most middle age crises.
And an excellent supporting cast makes sure that his relationships are almost painfully authentic — loving but sometimes wary wife, rebellious teen son (Nicolas Kalsch), deceived friends and former colleagues. And for the viewer, sticking with him pays off with a profoundly strong final scene.
This is brilliant filmmaking (only perhaps in need of a more ruthless editor to whittle down the two-hours-plus running time). Director-cowriter Laurent Cantet (“Human Resources”) cuts straight to the heart of our soulless Western society…and offers a glimmer of hope as well.

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