Julie (Laure Calamy) is on the move. From the moment her alarm clock disturbs her sleeping breath, she’s in constant state of harried, frantic motion—making breakfast, tinkering with the boiler, dropping her kids off at an elderly neighbor’s house while it’s still dark out, running to catch a train, changing into her hotel maid uniform, smoothing sheets, hosing excrement from the walls, and battling her way back home to do it all over again, all too soon.
“Full Time,” written and directed by Eric Gravel, depicts the never-ending sprint that is Julie’s life as a struggling single mom, rendering this social-realist drama as a gritty, heart-pounding thriller, with breathless, naturalistic handheld cinematography by Victor Seguin and an adrenaline-pounding electronic score by Irène Drésel.
There’s something radical about turning a very bad week in the life of a single mom into an action thriller, and with it Gravel makes a bold socio-political statement simply by letting us watch Julie’s life unfold, or unravel, over the course of about a week during a transit strike that renders Julie’s already challenging life nearly impossible. Living in a small village outside of Paris, Julie takes trains, buses, and the Métro to get into work every day at a 5 star hotel. But when the system grinds to a halt, Julie never stops moving, jumping onto replacement buses, hitchhiking, and taking off-license cabs wherever she can just to clock in at work in the morning and return home to relieve her babysitter, an increasingly exasperated Mme. Lusigny (Geneviève Mnich).
Her ex-husband’s number goes straight to voicemail, and with the transit strike her childcare issues, and problems with her manager at the hotel, Julie is a study in desperation, summoning the last dregs of her charm to ask, then beg for favors — just a little help to get by, just until tomorrow — until the next crisis rears its head. She has a light at the end of the tunnel—a job interview at a market research company—and that is the only thing keeping Julie moving forward constantly, like a shark.
“Full Time” is a portrait in precarity, showing us how challenging it is to escape poverty, and how easy it is to slip into. Julie has experience in corporate market research, but her company shut down, she got divorced, she has two kids. Everything she does is for survival, and her life is held together with her sheer effort and the begrudging goodwill of those around her. The thing about getting ahead is that it requires two things Julie lacks: time, and money for last minute interviews, lunches, and new business suits.
It’s fascinating that Gravel sets this drama against a transit strike—it escalates the obstacles Julie has to overcome, but it’s also relevant that we see her as a worker who can’t just “work from home” due to transit workers striking in opposition to an increase in hours to support the welfare program. Despite any solidarity she might feel, she has no choice but to battle through to continue earning her paycheck, to continue striving for more. The only solidarity Julie has is to keeping her family afloat, sparing her only ragged scraps of energy for herself and her kids.
At the center of this hurricane is the astounding Calamy, who is best known for her role on the comedy “Call My Agent” and her Cesar-award winning performance in the light romance “My Donkey, My Lover, and I.” This darker role and performance, for which she won the 2021 Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival, is a departure for the actress, but her natural charm is a crucial element as Julie pastes on a smile and cajoles favors out of the hotel footmen and inquires about childcare to another parent on the train platform.
At a certain point, hunched in her ubiquitous corduroy bomber jacket and scarf, hanging out a thumb into traffic hoping for a ride, Julie suddenly calls to mind another woman on the run: Sandrine Bonnaire in Agnès Varda’s “Vagabond.” But where Varda embraced the bleakness in her film, Gravel flinches. There’s a moment where you think things might turn even darker, but he swerves, and ultimately, over-corrects. For a film that teems with such desperation, it’s a bit startling how quickly a resolution is delivered, though it’s not like Julie hasn’t earned it through sweat, tears, and the unmatched determination of a mother in need.
Julie is required to constantly shape-shift, running from role to role: mother to maid to marketing exec, and Calamy delivers a performance that is utterly present, physically and emotionally, in the adrenaline-fueled panic in which Julie exists. We watch her fight and claw and struggle against the rip tides that attempt to pull her under, but it’s when she surrenders that a glimpse of salvation surfaces, a shimmer of hope that keeps her going, and going, and going.