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BERLINALE 2024 Competition

Review: Suspended Time

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- BERLINALE 2024: A minor entry in Olivier Assayas' filmography is definitely his most autobiographical outing, but is probably among the least engaging

Review: Suspended Time
Nine D'Urso and Vincent Macaigne in Suspended Time

A decidedly minor entry in Olivier Assayas' storied filmography, Suspended Time [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
has just world-premiered in the Berlinale Competition. A famously self-referential filmmaker, the French auteur has made his most directly autobiographical film to date. However, what might be a little gem for his devoted fans and lovers of painting, French art and cinema will leave most audiences cold.

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Vincent Macaigne brings a large part of the neuroses he displayed as another of Assayas' alter-egos in his HBO series Irma Vep [+see also:
series review
interview: Olivier Assayas
series profile
]
as Etienne, a film director spending the last few weeks of the COVID-19 lockdown in his family's house in rural Normandy. He is joined by his recently divorced brother, music journalist Paul (Micha Lescot – who actually looks a lot more like Assayas than Macaigne does) and the brother's new girlfriend, Carole (Nora Hamzawi), as well as his own girlfriend of two years, Morgane (Nine D'Urso). Etienne is divorced himself, and both women are significantly younger than the men.

If someone got lucky with the lockdown, it was these four. The old house is full of books and paintings; it is big and located in a lovely village surrounded by lush woods. Etienne and Paul haven't spent this much time together since they were kids, which is evident both in the interests and memories they share and in the annoyances they cause to each other. Etienne is extremely cautious about COVID, insisting on the strictest measures: leaving the groceries outside for four hours, followed by taking their clothes off and dumping them in the washing machine before scrubbing his hands to a YouTube tutorial. This drives the more reasonable Paul crazy, and in return, he badgers Etienne, who keeps ordering unnecessary stuff, with lectures about Amazon's inhumane practices.

But when they sit down to listen to music and drink wine in the yard, the two men light up and the fraternal vibe is there. There's a lot of talk about French authors, artists, filmmakers and musicians, and the women agreeably follow them, aware of their clearly inferior erudition. They have some agency (Etienne's ex-wife has more, despite barely appearing at all), but although she is a filmmaker herself, Morgane seems happy to let her man take the lead. The character of Carole, thanks to Hamzawi's presence, seems more serious but is underdeveloped. Etienne is especially taken by David Hockney's lockdown series and keeps quoting him, to Morgane's bemused teasing.

In between, a voice-over in the first person accompanied by postcard-like images of the village, as well as a short, archival black-and-white segment, describes their family, childhood and youth, including that one time when Assayas' (real-life) painter grandfather picked a relatively unknown Italian artist over a Modigliani. Further distractions from the locked-in vibe include walks in the woods, tennis matches and therapy sessions that Etienne takes on his iPhone under a tree. He gives a couple of pretentious, doomsaying interviews online and tells Morgane he'd like to make a film with Kristen Stewart.

There is little negative to say about Eric Gautier's cinematography or Marion Monnier's editing, and Assayas' direction is as assured as ever, but his writing here hasn't really survived the pandemic. The characters barely come across as likeable (except Morgane, to an extent) and the COVID humour quickly wears off. Etienne's art references will be more relatable to cultured French audiences, but for most international viewers, they will feel lofty, making Paul's recognisable music angle at least a bit refreshing. Even if the character of Etienne is Assayas being self-deprecating, it grows old and annoying as fast as the humour. At 105 minutes long, the film outstays its limited welcome.

Suspended Time is a co-production between French companies Curiosa Films and Vortex Sutra, and Playtime has the international rights.

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Photogallery 18/02/2024: Berlinale 2024 - Treasure

23 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Stephen Fry, Lena Dunham, Julia von Heinz, Lupita Nyong o
© 2024 Dario Caruso for Cineuropa - dario-caruso.fr, @studio.photo.dar, Dario Caruso

Photogallery 18/02/2024: Berlinale 2024 - Suspended Time

34 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Olivier Assayas, Vincent Macaigne, Micha Lescot, Nine D Urso, Nora Hamzawi
© 2024 Dario Caruso for Cineuropa - dario-caruso.fr, @studio.photo.dar, Dario Caruso

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