A title like "No Time for Breakfast" creates romantic comedy expectations. It sounds closer to "No Time for Sergeants" or "Breakfast at Tiffany's" than it does to its real genre, the medical soap opera.
Moreover, fresh memories of Annie Girardot as the heroine of "Dear Inspector" make it easy to misconstrue the establishing scenes of "No Time for Breakfast," in which she appears as a staff physician at a Paris hospital who bustles between home, lover and professional duties until cancer strikes her.
Although its dependence on melodrama and cliche inspires plenty of unintentional humor, "No Time for Breakfast," opening today at the Outer Circle, is not supposed to play funny. Derived from a best-seller call "Un Cri," the film was prosaically titled "Docteur Francoise Gailand" in France, where it opened before "Dear Inspector" was made and for which Girardot won the 1976 French Academy Award for her performance as the proud, harried doctor.
Unfortunately the material is so contrived that the revelation of the doctor's malady cannot come as a surprise. When you see the chain-smoking heroine coughing uncontrollably in the hospital corridor, it seems Only a Matter of Time before that fateful diagnosis of lung cancer.
In fact, every episode in "No Time for Breakfast" has such a ponderous, methodical predictability that one may begin to relish being several jumps ahead of the actors and film-makers. You know that the camera is going to linger over the play of emotions on Girardot's face as she tries to blend sorrow and fortitude. And there's no questtion that the movie will end on an image of the closed operating room doors moments after the heroine is wheeled in. Under the circumstances a variation from cliche would violate the form.
Until cancer commands her attention, the heroine threatens to suffer only from the disadvantages of success and status. Although maintaining a domicile for the sake of appearances and the children, Dr. Gailland and her husband have drifted politely apart. Her importunate new lover calls her at the hospital at awkward moments to get in a little sweet talk. Her sensitive teen-age boy feels himself neglected and illustrates his resentment by theft. Her liberated teen-age daughter announces that she's pregnant and needs an abortion.
After watching this creaky framework unfold, cancer may seem a blessing in disguise. However, the framework compromises this crisis too. Studying her own X-ray, the heroine is joined by a colleague who unknowingly comments, "A cancer of the upper left lobe. Don't you agree?" The camera stays close as she struggles to absorb the bad news without giving her feelings away.
There's something peculiarly hypocritical about the way the heroine is portrayed as tough professional and suffernig female. Since it's the picturesque suffering that ultimately generates into sham. Given her profession, Girardot probably shouldn't be quite so stunned and shattered by a pessimistic diagnosis. She also looks less than impressive on the job: trying to comfort patients or give heart massage to an aged coronary victim.
The knee-jerk pathos ends up undermining Girardot's considerable talents for embodying hard-working women and projecting believable emotional reactions.
Like the title, the casting of the heroine's husband and lover also bring back romantic comedy memories. In 1960, Francois Perier and Jean-Paul Cassel were also the patient husband and callow lover, respectively, of Jean Seberg in Phillipe de Broca's "The Five-Day Lover." Here they are again: Perier looking even more phlegmatically dependable as a bourgeois cuckold, and Cassel now sadly worn as an overage plaything.
The fadeout leaves several tantalizing questions unanswered. Did the daughter have an abortion when she went on holiday to Corsica? Did the son, stimulated beyond endurance by the dishabille of mom and sis at home, manage to score while on holiday in London? And with whom?
Finally, could it be possible that the mother's lover is also the father of the daughter's unwanted child? I look forward to a "Dr. Francoise Gailland, Part II," perhaps destined to become "No Time for Lunch" in the United States.