With strikes on the news in the UK and around the world, director/writer Eric Gravel’s new film about a single mother seeking upward mobility – and stymied by public transport strikes that threaten not only job interviews for her sought livelihood, but her current employment as a maid at a five-star hotel – feels especially timely. Julie wakes up before dawn and leaves her children with a long-suffering neighbour. She travels into the city while still dark and does not get home until the light has left the sky. The radio and television stations are full of news of the upcoming strikes – and while the workers cannot afford not to protest, Julie cannot afford clocking in late one more day, or losing the chance at a better life for her family.
The frantic pace and high personal stakes of Full Time mirror the energy and tone of a Safdie film, but unlike Uncut Gems or Good Time Julie’s problems are largely not of her own making. She is trapped in her job by her need to provide for her children – the same children she does not want to move into the city without the promise of higher pay and better accommodation, especially with her mounting debt. Her children’s father is absent, along with his alimony payments. Her babysitting neighbour’s grumbling evolves into threats of involving social services. The Dardenne’s Two Days, One Night is perhaps a more apt reference point which captures the mundane nightmare of the capitalist hustle and the resentment that can foster in a dog-eat-dog mentality.
Full Time is a nerve-fraying watch; the only time we see Julie (and indeed the camera) still is right at the opening, as she sleeps before beginning another punishing week. From here, the movement is constant and relentless. Irène Drésel’s electronic score evokes the sounds of rushing blood, pounding feet and hearts, and the piercing blares that drown out the ability to register and respond to the world around you. There is no time or space to think clearly, let alone breathe freely. As Julie cries off her mascara and puts on her face for yet another gruelling week, the stress is inescapable.
Laure Calamy’s performance matches the ceaseless energy of the script. In her confident, natural portrayal, Julie is sympathetic even as the audience’s external eyes see the predicaments she is stuck between with frightening clarity. Not all of her decisions seem good at the moment, but all seem the best she can do.
Despite the frantic tone and pace – one all too recognisable for many today – of Full Time, Gravel refuses to give into hopelessness. Perhaps these narrative choices are a cop-out, but they come as the first real, and earned, relief in a taught 88 minutes. Full Time is not an easy watch, but a rewarding one in its coherence, intensity, and sympathy for all trapped in a capitalist nightmare.
Full Time had its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival
by Carmen Paddock
Carmen is a Pennsylvanian transplant to Glasgow who writes about film, television, and opera. A lover of maximalism and musicals, much of her writing focuses on cross-media adaptation. Favourite films include West Side Story, 10 Things I Hate About You, Ludwig, Cabaret, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and Moulin Rouge!. She holds a Masters in International Film Business from the University of Exeter / London Film School. Follow her on Twitter @CarmenChloie