Film Reviews

Full Time & Juniper

Published August 6, 2022
Laure Calamy ...on the run

If you’ve been to Paris and not experienced a demonstration or strike, you’ve missed one of the quintessentially French cultural experiences. Perhaps it’s a legacy of the Revolution, but  Parisians have never been shy about taking their grievances to the streets. It’s tremendously stirring for those doing the marching and chanting, but a pain for everyone else.

Eric Gravel’s Full Time is a film about what happens in one woman’s life when rail workers pull the plug. You may think this doesn’t sound like one of the great concepts for a motion picture, but from the first frame to the last, the tension barely lets up. By the time the credits rolled I felt thoroughly exhausted, as if I’d just spent the past hour-and-a-half waiting for trains that never come, standing crammed into buses, sitting in cars trapped in traffic jams, running to get to work on time… while the pressure is on, from both family and employer.

Laure Calamy is superb as Julie Roy, a divorcee bringing up two small children in a small town outside of Paris. The country offers a better quality of life and housing, but Julie has to commute every weekday to the city, where she is chief chamber maid at a five star hotel. She rises before dawn, gets the kids ready for school, leaves them with a neighbour, then catches the RER to work. It’s an incredibly stressful job, as Julie is answerable to demanding bosses, and clients with high expectations. By the time she gets home and collects the children, darkness has fallen.

This grinding routine barely keeps the family afloat. Her ex-husband is late with the alimony payments, the bank wants to talk to her about mortgages and overdrafts, and she needs to organise a birthday party for her son. When the trains stop running, everything in Julie’s already impossible life becomes ten times harder.

The strike arrives at a particularly unfortunate time for Julie, who has scored an interview for a better job in which she can draw on her qualifications as a trained economist and qmarketeer. We realise the chamber maid gig is all she has been able to find since she became a mother. Her immediate problem is how to travel to the other side of town for a crucial interview when she should be working at the hotel. The Paris Metro is a miracle of efficiency, but when it shuts down the entire city becomes dysfunctional.

Every journey, large or small, is an ordeal; a test of patience and ingenuity. The clock is constantly ticking, along with a thumping, rhythmic soundtrack that leaves us feeling as edgy as Julie. We’ve all experienced the torture of standing around waiting helplessly for a bus or a taxi that never seems to arrive, while we urgently need to be somewhere else. In this film that experience is repeated day after day, with fiendish variations.

Gravel’s particular skill is to avoid melodrama, keeping the story tight and realistic. The effect is a gradual racheting up of anxiety, as Julie’s problems become catastrophes. There is one marvellous epiphany when she stands on an empty platform and looks at the rail lines as if longing to throw herself in front of a train. As there is no train, the moment passes.

One could hardly imagine a better Julie than Laure Calamy, who has just the right mixture of strength and vulnerability. She’s neither young nor old, attractive but not glamorous, slightly dumpy but still sexy. She is tough and resourceful but knows how to play the feminine card. Full Time is virtually a one-woman show, and it’s a brilliant performance.

Charlotte Rampling.. this grandma takes no prisoners

Speaking of great female leads, there are few actors with a more devoted cult following than Charlotte Rampling, who made her debut in a supporting role in Georgy Girl(1966), and is still in demand in her mid-seventies. Her all-time most controversial part was in Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (1974), in which she played a former concentration camp inmate who falls in love with her gaoler. It earned her some ferocious notices which now seem scarcely believable.

In Juniper, by New Zealand director, Matthew J. Saville, Rampling plays an old woman with a full set of skeletons in the closet and an attitude that ensures she will not be going quietly into that good night.

In England, Ruth earned the undying resentment of her son, Robert (Marton Csokas), by sending him to boarding school and going off to another war zone as a photojournalist. There was also the small matter of never telling him who his father was, perhaps because there were too many possibilities.

Years later, Robert lives with his 17-year-old son, Sam (George Ferrier), in a house in the New Zealand countryside. His wife, Sam’s mother, has died, and the memories are fresh and painful. There’s a lot of friction between father and son, partly because Robert has allowed history to repeat itself by sending Sam to boarding school, where he is proving to be a troublesome student.

When Ruth announces she is coming to stay, with her English nurse, Sarah (Edith Poor), Robert has little option but to provide the accommodation. Their future depends on what he and Sam will inherit from the old woman.

Ruth is incapacitated by a broken leg that is slow to heal, and a taste for gin that sees her putting away a bottle a day – hence the title of the movie, Juniper – also a famously resilient plant. Fearless, foul-mouthed and aggressive, Ruth loathes the thought of being old, frail and sexually undesirable. Her attitude puts her on a collision course with Sam, who has his own attitude problem. Angry, depressed, full of teenage anxieties, still grieving for his mother, he is contemplating suicide and has no patience for the whims of a shrewish old gin addict.

You know where this is heading: Sam and Ruth will argue and fight, and eventually form a powerful bond, each becoming essential to the other. The story is based on Saville’s relationship with his own grandmother, who photographed the Spanish Civil War and took no nonsense from anyone. The character also owes a debt to indomitable foreign correspondents such as Martha Gellhorn, the only one of Hemingway’s wives who put Papa in his place.

Sam is usually in trouble, and Ruth is a natural trouble-maker. When Robert has to return to England she encourages Sam to hold a party, even though parties have been strictly forbidden. There is a quid pro quo involved, as she’s agreed to pay for the booze if Sam and his mates clean up an overgrown garden.

New Zealand films are known for their expansive feeling for landscape, and Juniper is no exception. With Ruth, we experience the grandeur of the rolling hills on the property, and the first glimpses of sunrise. For Sam, learning to appreciate the things around him is part of the process of growing up and assuming his place in the world. Rampling is predictably good as the tough, intelligent, old woman, but Ferrier, on debut is excellent in the role of a teenage boy struggling toward a hard-won maturity.

It’s almost a cliché that youth and old age have much to learn from each other, but it also happens to be true. Ruth leeches on  Sam’s energy and vitality, in return she offers him the wisdom born of experience and her own misadventures. She encourages her grandson to put away the morbid thoughts and grasp at life. We know, almost from the first scenes, that this is the way the relationship will evolve. The pleasure of the film is to be found in the skilful and sensitive manner in which the tale is told.

Full Time

Written & directed by Eric Gravel

Starring: Laura Calamy, Geneviève Mnich, Lucie Gallo, Anne Suarez, Cyril Gueï, Agathe Dronne, Mareme N’Diaye, Nolan Arizmendi, Sasha Lemaitre Cremaschi

France, rated M, 88 mins





Written & directed by Matthew J. Saville

Starring: Charlotte Rampling, George Ferrier, Marton Csokas, Edith Poor, Cameron Carter-Chan, Carlos Muller, Tane Rolfe, Alexander Sharman

New Zealand, rated M, 95 mins


Published in the Australian Financial Review, 6 August, 2022