The French film Time Out parallels American Beauty in a few aspects—its protagonist is an "Everyman" who loses his job, and Aurelien Recoing even looks a little like Kevin Spacey. The languid pacing, especially at the beginning, will test American audiences severely, but the film will only show in a few arthouses around the country. Its selected audience will discover the film in its own time, just as the plot slowly unfolds in the film itself.
Vincent (Recoing) loses his job but can't bear to break the news to his wife and family. He's always loved driving more than interacting with people, so he invents a new job after picking up brochures from a Geneva office building and spends his time driving and sleeping in Swiss parking lots to deceive his family.
Money becomes a problem, of course, so he creates his own personal Enron-like scam. Vincent cons his father into loaning him 200,000 francs for his Geneva apartment and then contacts acquaintances to invest in a vague United Nations enterprise involving foreign investing in emerging African nations and secretive Swiss bank accounts. This works temporarily when dealing with people who know him fairly well, but it begins to unravel when strangers are tipped off and when one of his closest friends contacts him to get in on the deal. This results in a revealing scene that demonstrates how uncomfortable Vincent is with his scam, as he reluctantly accepts his friends' 12,000 francs life savings. Later, director Laurent Cantet creates a beautiful long framing shot of the couple with the husband happily playing with his homemade sound studio on the left and the wife tidying up the apartment on the right.
A stranger, Jean-Michel (Serge Livrozet), spots Vincent as a fraud and enlists him in his illegal enterprise. At least Jean-Michel's business deals with real goods, however, and he's well aware of the risks and precautions he must take. He's experienced with big time fraud as well (over 1,500,000 francs worth), having been convicted and served a long prison sentence—his daughter compiled a scrapbook of the national scandal. In many ways Jean-Michel is more likeable than Vincent, since he's far more honest about his dealings with black market goods and handles his affairs in a friendly and understanding manner, unlike the Mafia business mentality we'd normally expect. It's through Jean-Michel's mentorship and listening ability that we learn about Vincent's conflicts and turmoil with the corporate world.
Vincent is most comfortable on the road. Even interacting with his family takes more of a toll on him than the parking attendants that chase him off the hotel lots. His schoolteacher wife, Muriel (Karin Viard), begins to suspect that all is not kosher with Vincent's new job and finds out that he lied about his old job. When confronted, Vincent does what is most natural to him—takes to the road—and the film thankfully avoids falling into final cliché. Also refreshing is the underplayed acting by the lead characters, particularly from the melancholy protagonist, who shows how he feels through subtle body language, never resorting to overdoing his verbal delivery.
Most audiences will find Time Out far too slowly paced to stick through the confusing opening. Should they find the patience, however, they will be rewarded with an engaging character study that probes far deeper than American films dare tread. Cantet avoids using easy voice-over narrative devices with his introspective lead character, allowing Vincent to reveal himself in time. It's definitely worth wading through the uncomfortable opening minutes to get to this intimate portrayal of the job world, resulting in—among the better films of 2002.