Two Glasses of Wine and a Packet of Chips

Suspended Time

Lockdown was a terrible time for a huge percentage of the world. Many essential workers — delivery drivers, supermarket workers, hospital staff — were barely locked down at all, but risking their lives on the frontline to make sure everyone else would pull through. 

But if you were wondering how Olivier Assayas got on: boy, do I have good news for you! 

Suspended Time (Assayas, 2024) is the French auteur’s autobiographical and highly solipsistic account of spring 2020, where the director — acclaimed, well-off, secure — spent three months or so at his family home in the Chevreuse Valley.

It’s so low-stakes that it makes the average episode of Friends (1994, David Crane, Marta Kauffman) look like Wagnerian drama. And it comes with all the embarrassing memories of a terrible, frustrating, and, for many, deadly time, while exploring little dramatic potential beyond two brothers nagging each other about chores. 

Assayas combines two movies in one: a moderately engaging slide show of his countryside Maison with Assayas narrating his memories of his childhood, featuring gorgeous wisteria, blooming magnolias and wildflowers in abundance, with a rote comedy that might play OK on French television but has absolutely no place in the main competition of a major film festival. 

Vincent Macaigne stars as Assayas stand-in Paul, a filmmaker and germophobe worried about the prevalence of the virus on Amazon packages and constantly asking if people in the shop were wearing masks. He’s locked up in a beautiful and idyllic mansion with his brother Etienne (Micha Lescot), a rock journalist with a more laissez-faire approach. 

They argue about the dishes, their approach to cleanliness and other various trivial things. In another film, this constant bickering might have led to some kind of dramatic catharsis. But no, Assayas is happy to skate on “The One Where Paul Fucks up a Crockpot…” for a strong 100 minutes. 

Even their girlfriends, played by Nine D’Urso and Nora Hamzawi seem perfectly nice and chill — the two girls even get a moment together where they discuss nothing else apart from the men. 

Now I’m not usually one to apply the Bechdel Test. In fact, I don’t even agree with it as a useful yardstick for criticism. But for Assayas, I’m going to make an exception. Don’t bring the women in if they’re going to barely have their own interiority. Even worse is the Mia Hansen-Løve stand-in (Laura Gómez) playing the ex-wife. Well, Løve, the far better filmmaker, gets the last laugh. 

There’s nothing unpleasant or offensive here. Sometimes the literary conversations, covering Madame Bovary, Abelard and Heloise and other French classics, are nice; like leaving Radio 3 on during The Essay. But it doesn’t get at anything profound. Or anything at all, really. It’s all one big snooze.

Whatever. I’m glad Assayas had a nice time. It’s nice when people enjoy themselves.