Leaving (aka. Partir) (2009) Dir: Catherine Corsini. Country: France. Unrated: contains sexuality, nudity.
This film opens Friday, October 8th in selected areas in LA.
Suzanne (Kristin Scott-Thomas) is a well to do middle-aged, married woman and mother of two teenagers in the south of France. Bored of her idle bourgeois lifestyle, she decides to go back to work as a physiotherapist as her husband agrees to fix up a consulting room for her in their backyard. Once Suzanne meets the man hired to do the building, Ivan (Sergi Lopez), they develop a mutual attraction which leads to a torrid affair, which Suzanne decides to sacrifice everything else for.
The film starts off with a bang. Well, literally. There’s a gunshot heard in the household of Suzanne and her doctor husband, Samuel (Yvan Attal). Majority of the film takes place before that event. The film establishes Suzanne’s happy life in the house, her supportive husband, and kids. When the hired handyman Ivan fractures his foot while trying to save Suzanne’s car from rolling down a hill, Suzanne feels responsible. She helps him recover and one thing leads to another. I have to admit the whole high class lady getting on with a blue-collar guy story has become cliché by now–it happens fairly easily in the film. Once the affair begins, Suzanne becomes increasingly desperate to keep it going. Considering that she is giving up a comfortable life and professional goals, and the effects it will have on her children, her decision to stay with Ivan, who is poor and an ex-con, is an unusual choice (although it does emphasize the “extreme” measure of her passion).
She soon confesses of the affair to Samuel, wanting a divorce. Samuel refuses-he wants her to come back to him, using whatever means possible in his disposal. He does this by (other than canceling her credit cards) using his political (?) influence and power to keep her from finding a job, which I found contrived (unless he was some kind of a mob boss). The film now reveals Samuel to be somewhat the antagonist. This leads to an emotionally dramatic scene of Suzanne trying to sell her expensive watch at a gas station just to get money for gas-Scott-Thomas’ desperate performance makes the scene very believable.
It’s hard to deny the rawness in Kristin Scott-Thomas’ performance. One can read everything from just her expressions-urgency, desperation, or torn indecisiveness, even without use of any dialogue. Her realistic reactions make her character sympathetic despite the fact that Suzanne isn’t a very moral character.
This film seems to be about unbridled passion despite the consequences and the façade despite what goes on underneath. I suppose it’s understandable for the filmmakers to want to make Samuel a “bad guy” just so Suzanne seems more sympathetic. I think it would have been stronger without that aspect, so we can see what’s going on inside Suzanne without her suddenly becoming some sort of a “victim” or condoning her actions. Still, Samuel isn’t physically abusive, which would’ve turned this into a whole different type of story. What is really going on inside her is open to interpretation-does she really love Ivan or is it all about her? Is she giving up everything for sake of lust and justifying that by calling it love? Will she eventually move on to the next guy? Perhaps it is the fleeting aspect of it all that makes it enticing for her. As for Ivan, he doesn’t play a very strong role, or a definable personality. He is a sympathetic character and has a cute daughter who gets along with Suzanne. Quite convenient, I’ll wager.
There’s nothing new about the story itself, and it doesn’t necessarily fill in the gaps. It is true that the plot contrivances do hamper the film somewhat. The film appears to be more about the details, subtleties, and interpretation that the viewer brings to the film, an aspect I liked. I’m not clear whether co-writer and director Catherine Corsini was trying to make a specific point in this film. Suzanne’s actions may be questionable, but not unbelievable due to Kristin Scott-Thomas’ performance. This film is arty. There’s always tension whenever one discusses film as a commercial, or transactional, medium (money for entertainment) or piece of art. This film falls more on the latter. It left me with an impression, which might not be everyone’s, nor not always my, cup of tea. My Rating: *** out of **** stars.