Friday, 30 July 2010

'Leaving' review: I Am Bored...

In recent times Kristen Scott Thomas has moved easily between big budget Hollywood movies such as 'The Golden Compass' and interesting little British films like 'Nowhere Boy'. There is nothing especially odd or exceptional about this. But what is rather more remarkable is that she has spent just as much time carving out a career in French language fare like 'Tell No One' and 'I've Loved You So Long'. We are used to seeing European actors move into English language film, but the reverse is rare. I can recall seeing Jodie Foster make a brief cameo appearance in Jeunet's 'A Very Long Engagement' a few years ago, but I am hard pressed to think of any other notable examples.

The latest in this vein of interesting Gallic offerings starring Scott Thomas comes in the form of Catherine Corsini's 'Leaving', the tale of a bored bourgeois housewife (Suzanne) who begins a love affair which both enables her to experience passion and live life again, as well as causing drama and friction within her family. It is in many ways very similar to the Italian-language film 'I Am Love' - which coincidentally also stars an English actress in Tilda Swinton. In 'Leaving' the object of Suzanne's sexual desire comes in the form of a builder who her wealthy husband has employed - distractingly played by the evil Captain Vidal from 'Pan's Labyrinth', the Spannish actor Sergi López.

This tale of sexual reawakening, forbidden love and of the impact of divorce upon a family, can be interesting. When handled properly it can be intense and deeply moving. However 'Leaving' is the single most dull movie I have sat through this year. All the characters (including the children) are unlikeable, the human emotions and events that are depicted are completely silly and handled with an unappealing level of earnestness. There is not really a moment of humour or levity. Instead we are treated to boring and faintly irritating movie which lurches from one uncomfortable sex scene to the next with only the blatant product placement for Peugeot holding any interest.

Suzanne travels between France and Spain frequently in her ultra-reliable French-made car, with a car ad aesthetic taking over whenever she glides across the picturesque countryside. I was not much of a fan of the aforementioned 'I Am Love', however after viewing 'Leaving' I can appreciate that movie's score, it's cinematography and it's set design - all of which are self-consciously "arty" yet provide a level of interest and entertainment missing here in this bland and conventional drama.

On a dramatic level the film has very little to offer. Kristen Scott Thomas' Suzanne could be seen to behave in a way which is interestingly morally grey and her husband's initial reaction to her infidelity is intriguing and sympathetic as it is one of extreme and inconsolable grief. However, seemingly unsure of how to navigate these characters through a story of emotional complexity and moral ambiguity, the film almost immediately finds safer, more surefooted ground. The husband (played by the Israeli-born actor, Yvan Attal) is soon turned into a two-dimensional villain and audience sympathies are reassuringly left to lie with the protagonist. With this lazy writing any hope that 'Leaving' might shed some light on the human condition quickly vanishes and we can set ourselves to autopilot until the film's contrived and completely overblown conclusion.

In the end Kristen Scott Thomas' grasp of French is impressive and I applaud her versatility, however 'Leaving' has little to recommend it. If you want to see an up-market version of this story, watch 'I Am Love'. If you want to see a really good film about temptation and desire for a married woman gone numb, then watch 'Brief Encounter'. This film has no real reason to exist.

'Leaving' is rated '15' by the BBFC and can still be seen in selected cinemas across the UK.

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