LEAVING. Starring: Kristin Scott-Thomas, Sergi Lopez, and Yvan Attal. Directed by Catherine Corsini. Rated MA15+ Restricted. (strong sex scenes). 87 min.
The word “leaving” appears in dozens of film titles, and as recently as 2004 a film by exactly the same name told the tale of a battered wife. This French subtitled film takes a different turn, and is a romantic thriller, that has been released following its inclusion in French Film Festivals around Australia.
Kristin Scott-Thomas plays the role of Suzanne, a married woman living in the South of France, who has a steamy affair with Ivan, a carpenter (Sergi Lopez), who is hired by her doctor husband (Yvan Attal) to build a consulting room in the backyard of her house. Suzanne is 40 years of age, a mother of two children, a physiotherapist by training, and looking for change. The affair provides her escape from a relationship to a husband she finds routine, insensitive, and dull. The film starts off violently, but the identity of the person committing the violence is not known until the end, and the film builds up its tension in thriller-mode as the tempestuous romance between Suzanne and Ivan develops. The passion between Suzanne and Ivan consume them both. The affair causes disastrous consequences for all concerned, and we learn the details at the end of the movie about who was responsible for the gunshot we heard at the movie’s start.
Scott-Thomas is good as Suzanne, but it is not her best role, and she struggles at times to present a coherent performance of a woman who chose to risk everything she had. What rescues the film’s impact, and maintains considerable emotional force, is the chemistry that exists between Scott-Thomas and Lopez, and the nuances of Scott-Thomas’s acting as the affair gradually erodes Suzanne’s capacity to maintain her self-control. In an illicit way, Ivan gives Suzanne’s life meaning, and the engulfing passion between them keeps the film’s simmering tension alive. What helps the drama of the plot-line is our knowledge that Ivan was in prison before he commenced his work at the house, and that Suzanne’s husband tried vengefully to blackmail Suzanne into coming back. The romance between Suzanne and Ivan is reinforced heavily throughout by the photography in the movie which presents French provincial country-side in soft, and warm ways, which contrasts with the drama going on around it.
The movie’s censorship rating is well earned by the inclusion of very strong sex scenes. The sexual scenes between Suzanne and Ivan, and Suzanne and her husband are very explicit, and leave nothing much to imagination. The moral validity of Suzanne’s and Ivan’s choice is unsustainable, and her actions are never really explained. We don’t really know whether it was a flaw in Suzanne’s personality that led her to sacrifice everything, including marriage, home and children, or whether the situation got too much for her and her husband and Ivan to bear. As Suzanne gives up all that she has for her passionate encounters with Ivan, the movie starts to tackle the issue of class consciousness. For the first time, Suzanne enters the world of the blue collar worker, and she trades comfortable and easy living for hardship she is not used to. The acting gets better, and more subtle, as this happens, and as Suzanne becomes more desperate, but the ending which aims for shock doesn’t really satisfy. All three (Suzanne, her husband, and her lover) have good reason to fire that gun, and the final solution doesn’t seem quite right.
This is a thriller film that holds you only so far. It entertains, and the acting is fine all round, but the movie as a whole could have been more convincing.
Out April 15, 2010.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.