Home Hollywood Olivier Assayas Takes A Personal Look At Life Under Lockdown

Olivier Assayas Takes A Personal Look At Life Under Lockdown

Olivier Assayas Takes A Personal Look At Life Under Lockdown


There is a sense of a running gag in Hors du Temps (renamed Suspended Time for the English-language market). In his complex, autofictional 2022 TV series Irma Vep, Olivier Assayas cast as the director of a film called Irma Vep — a film he had, in fact, made in real life 20 years earlier — the actor Vincent Macaigne, who cheekily developed a version of Assayas that not only picked up on his distinctively reedy voice, but also nobbled his quirky irritability and sensitivities.

That character was called Rene, but he was not a million miles from Paul, the character Macaigne plays in this account of two brothers confined with their partners for the duration of the Covid lockdown. They have returned to the house where they lived as boys and where they have rarely returned since: a vine-covered cottage in a picturesque hamlet. It is a glorious summer, just like the remembered summers of childhood. The sun shines constantly.  

If Assayas really is embarking on a later-life version of François Truffaut’s symbiosis with actor/avatar Jean-Pierre Léaud, documenting his own life through an alter ego, he is clearly not out to flatter himself. Like Rene, Paul is a film director. Also like Rene, he obsesses over details, and  Covid provides plenty of grist for this mill: When he washes his hands, he puts his iPad next to the sink to follow instructions on optimum hand-sanitation on YouTube. He agonises over bringing in the mail, washing clothes that may have crossed paths with the postman’s viral traces. He bleaches the door handles.

He and his brother Etienne (Micha Lescot), a music journalist who is a much cooler cat, are supposed to alternate picking up the groceries, but Paul is so terrified that the pick-up system of boxes outside the village shop will bring him into insufficiently distanced contact with the shopkeeper ,no matter how fully masked they both are, that he can’t bring himself to do his share.

Then there is Paul’s online shopping habit: every day, he buys another pair of socks or a new saucepan. Etienne rolls his eyes and lectures him about the working conditions in Amazon warehouses. His own obsession is simple: every night, he gets a little closer to cooking the perfect crêpe. The four of them cook elaborate dinners they eat on the terrace, drinking a good deal of wine, smoking like chimneys and recalling terrible pop songs from their youth. It is a French idyll. The brothers irritate each other and the kitchen can feel crowded, but there is a tennis court in the empty house next door where they spend afternoons.

On the whole, this fictional version of the Assayas family — Olivier’s brother is a music journalist in real life — is having a very good lockdown. Mulling over his thoughts with his new and considerably younger partner Carole (Nora Hamzawi), Paul compares their retreat to the Covid-period paintings by David Hockney. Assayas films their garden romps in a freewheeling style that evokes a sense-memory of Eric Rohmer.

At the same time, this remains their parents’ house. Their father’s study is exactly as he left it; the shelves are full of books nobody will ever read as long as Amazon keeps supplying them with the books Paul fancies now. He sleeps in his mother’s bed, which means he finds it difficult to sleep at all. His grandfather painted himself and the other members of his family back in the ’30s; they gaze down upon him now, as they did when they were children.

It is a household of ghostly presences, including the two brothers themselves: it is decades since they lived together in this house or in student digs, refusing  as much as possible to return to this dreary rural backwater, as they once saw it  At one point, Paul worries that he barely knows his brother: their relationship belongs to the past, in the way his mother’s china does. Or are they reconstructing it now, just as they are revising their relationship with the house itself?

Assayas devised this film as a series of thoughts jotted down as he had them during Covid and then filmed it with actors in the house where they were living. Is it indulgent? Of course. Its observations are more fleeting than profound or searching; it is, indeed, a film of jottings, which some viewers will find dull or simply so open-ended as to be pointless as well as plotless. Covid lockdown, however, was perhaps the only break in normal life that the majority of us will ever experience. We have yet to reflect on it fully, and we still have little idea what the long-term effects will be. Assayas’s film, slight and playful though it is, is a stab in that dark.

Title: Hors du Temps (Suspended Time)
Festival: Berlin (Competition)
World Sales: Playtime
Director/screenwriter: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Vincent Macaigne, Micha Lescot, Nine D’Urso, Nora Hamzawi, Maud Wyler, Dominique Reymond, Magdalena Lafont
Running time: 1hr 45 min

Song Lyrics Hollywood and Bollywood
GigFly – Freelancing Marketplace


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here