You’re living in the south of France, in Nimes. You are a married woman, you have two teen-aged children, and your husband is a successful doctor. You have a beautiful home, with modern furniture and original art works on the wall. The weather in this part of France is delightful, which is a good thing since you are no longer in the work force. What is all of this a recipe for?
So you have decided to resume, after 15 years, your career as a reflexologist also known as a physical therapist. Your husband and you have decided to redo the large tool shed/small barn into an office for you. A construction manager has been hired. Only one thing needs to be done before serious reconstruction can begin. This shed has to be emptied out. Years and years of storage of no longer needed stuff has accumulated to the degree that a truck and laborer is needed to cart it away.
He comes and you help him. This is how Director Catherine Corsini and her collaborator on the screenplay, Gaelle Mace, begin the 2009 film Leaving, or Partir in French. Actually, that is Part 2 of the opening. The actual opening has the star, Kristin Scott Thomas, as Suzanne Vidal, awaken at the break of dawn. She gets down from bed, and leaves the screen. We next hear a gunshot. Who was shot, and by whom are unknown. Then we see the usual words leading to a flash back – Six Months Prior.
I thought that KST was an English actress. Of course she is an English actress, but she is bilingual and speaks Francaise like a native (at least to my untrained ears). In this role, at the onset of the film, she plays a dutiful housewife/homemaker. You get an impression that their life is at least going well. The husband, Samuel Vidal, played by Yvan Attal, is shown to be a bit of a pompous man, full of himself. Corsini doesn’t hit us over the head, or batter us into thinking that he is a bad man.
The day laborer is called Ivan, and he’s played by Sergi Lopez, a Catalan speaking Spaniard who is also bilingual. Actually, he also speaks English, as I found out while watching the Japanese film, The Map of the Sounds of Tokyo, only the day before watching this one. Here he is cast as Suzanne’s lover.
I am not going to discuss how their affair began, nor will I give any spoilers about the shooting that opened the film. What I will discuss is that the central theme of this film is the power of passion. Suzanne seemingly has everything. But we come to find out that one – she is dissatisfied, and two – she has a voracious sexual appetite. So much so, that she’s willing to give up everything she has in order to take up a life with Ivan.
This doesn’t make a lot of sense – he’s far from being any one’s image of an ideal man. In fact the deeper we get into the film, we begin to question Suzanne’s thinking. Because for her to leave hearth and home, husband and children, for this lover, seems so irrational.
Now that her inner fires have been ignited by this Grand Passion, she suddenly reveals another deadly character trait for someone having an affair – she’s compulsively honest. She cannot lie. So she tells Samuel that she’s in love. Of course, he never expected to hear anything like this. He’s furious. He demands that she break it off immediately. She says she will.
But she cannot. One night, the husband’s parents stop by for a dinner. They’re all gathered at the dining room table. The six of them – Suzanne and Samuel, the two children, and Samuel’s parents. Ivan calls – she wants to go to him. Samuel won’t let her leave. The altercation gets physical, no, brutal. Finally he drags her upstairs and locks her in the bedroom.
Her passion is so great, that she climbs out of the bedroom window and makes her escape to her lover.
So that leaves us with the thought about this passionate affair. There are at least four or five scenes of lovemaking in this film. While not really that graphic, I mean there’s no mistaking what we are seeing, but there’s no complete frontal nudity. But you will see it as extremely passionate.
Kristin Scott Thomas does a masterful job in her portrayal of a woman who is not only ready to give up everything, but actually does so. Watching her as she shows her feelings, not by any dialogue with either Samuel or Ivan, but from her beautiful and expressive face, gives you a great film experience. This was a powerful and bravura performance.
Too bad that the story itself isn’t able to bring us to a similar level of satisfaction. The film is beautiful visually except for the love scenes which convey ardor and passion, but in and of themselves are not especially attractive. While KST’s Suzanne is a not quite fully developed character, Samuel and Ivan are distinctly and pointedly one dimensional. They are the cuckolded husband and the woman’s lover – period.
Beyond that, there’s a distinct lack of realism to the story. In short, the script has all three of the leads doing things which make no sense. That should not mean that the film is a failure. But it does mean that Leaving should have been a lot better.