Foreign films have always held a certain magic when it came to creating films that may portray an overused premise. In this case, the themes of infidelity have been used so many times, as to how a woman would fall into this trap, why a woman falls into the arms of another man and what happens after a husband finds out about the betrayal. The French film “Leaving” (a.k.a. “Partir”, 2009) is one such film that brings forth this very overused premise. The direction by Catherine Corsini and the script that Corsini co-wrote with Gaelle Mace approaches its premise differently. Instead of falling into the trappings of such films as “Unfaithful”, “The Good Girl” and “Walk On The Moon” it creates a story that represents something else. Rather than going forth with a husband and wife struggle and the passion between a confused wife and her lover, it brings something new to the table. The pain, the hardships and the strength of a woman who wants to be free.
Suzanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a well to do woman who has a financially supportive husband, two children and has a nice house in the south of France. Her lifestyle is quite easy and she decides to return to her work as a physiotherapist and an office is being built for her by her spouse (Yvan Attal) in their own backyard. They hire a contractor whose workers includes a Spanish man named Ivan (Sergi Lopez, Pan’s Labyrinth) and the attraction was just there the minute Suzanne lays eyes on him. The two begin a torrid affair that comes so fast and very unexpected. Cannot contain her attraction and Suzanne declares her love for Ivan to her husband. She intends to give up everything she had ever had for Ivan as she intends to embrace this passionate fire that rages in her. But things usually get ugly after such an affair…
The film starts off with a lot of cliché, as the film sets the groundwork for our two lovers. It starts off innocently enough, a man hanging around with a woman can raise a little attraction here and there. It all depends on they act on it or if they open themselves to opportunities. Suzanne has a great lifestyle and it would be easy to say that she is a fool for entertaining the idea of being with Ivan. However, once you read between the lines, you see Samuel so busy with his work and sex with him has no flame. Suzanne also exhibits the qualities of a woman who liked being ‘rescued’ as her past meeting with her husband enforces this idea. The direction also makes subtle and yet powerful touches to display Suzanne’s guilt as she freaks out when her children complain about dinner being “chicken” again. Suzanne is a good woman, she did stray and tried to make up for it. But there was just something burning inside that cannot be denied; some may say lust and that she has gotten used to Ivan’s touch, she cannot bring herself to have sex with anyone else. Suzanne is not a promiscuous woman which makes her actions quite intriguing the more you get into the film.
Kristin Scott Thomas is the right actress for the job. She isn’t that glamorous and she is well into her late 40’s during the filming of this movie. She does have that quality that is very sensual, despite her simple appearance and mannerisms, it was definitely believable that Ivan would be attracted to her. Kristin Scott Thomas embodied that “older women can be hotter” (no body doubles, she looked great naked for a woman her age) thing that I had no issues buying into; her sex scenes were very intense and hot, I was impressed with the degree of believability she brought into the sex scenes. The second half of the film is all Thomas’ show as she commands each scene with her convincing performance. The film becomes a struggle for individuality as Suzanne becomes a woman fighting for her right to leave and to be with the man she loves. Bitter and angry, Samuel (played nicely by Attal) does whatever he can to make things hard for Suzanne or so Suzanne believes (I think it was more Ivan‘s status as an ex-con in the beginning). For some reason, despite the difficult life, Suzanne appears happy even though her daughter hates her decisions while her son proved more understanding. For Samuel, it was partly a matter of pride and saving face; I understand his feelings but sometimes one just needs to let go and let Suzanne realize her mistake (if she ever). This becomes a battle of wills for Suzanne to stay with Ivan. Being an ex-con, he isn’t given many opportunities; so the two has to make do with what they have. Suzanne out of desperation humiliates herself to a certain degree and makes several mistakes, that leads to the tragic events in the film.
Sergi Lopez has that personality that I find believable. He looks simple and yet, I can believe that he can attract the eye of a woman; not because of looks but through his interactions. Yvan Attal makes for a great supporting actor as he seems to be the husband filled with rage, he wants his wife back, and yet, one would wonder why? It was also curious that Samuel was more interested in making love to Suzanne after she had tried to leave him. Samuel embodies the man betrayed and would do anything to make his pain go away. It was easy to sympathize with Samuel, and yet, the more you got into the movie, the more you can understand that this former husband and wife definitely had their problems. Ivan just became the final nudge for their break up.
I suppose I can say that I enjoyed the way Suzanne was portrayed as the adulterer. She wasn’t the type that seemed easy and you know she had underlying layers to her personality that led to her being taken into an affair. It became more a struggle for identity rather than an affair driven by lust and mistaken love. So, did Suzanne truly love Ivan? Did she deserve the things that she had gone through or were they simply consequences of her own actions? The answer lies within the eye of the viewer. The film doesn’t point any fingers, albeit it does make Suzanne a lot more compelling than Samuel or Ivan. I would say that sometimes, wives (and husbands too, for that matter)make stupid decisions, and Suzanne was gutsy enough to follow through with this decision, and I can respect that. A situation should be allowed to play out, after all, sometimes a new beginning can be healthy for everyone.
“Leaving” serves as a cautionary tale for those who are considering having an affair. Are you sure you have everything planned out? It also serves as a tale of individuality. A man and a woman has to maintain a manner of individualism, despite a marriage. Remember the old saying “married, but not dead”? "Leaving" is a film about human reactions, desires and inner struggle. It has the right blend of drama, eroticism and tragedy that proved very compelling, engaging and has surpassed my expectations on films with similar themes.
Highly Recommended! [4 Out of 5 Stars]
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Opened October 1, 2010 (Limited 10/1) | Runtime:1 hr. 25 min.
With her idle bourgeois lifestyle getting her down, well-to-do mother Suzanne goes back to work as a physiotherapist in the south of France. Her husband agrees to fix up a consulting room in their backyard but when Suzanne and the man hired to do the building work meet, their mutual attraction is sudden and violent. Suzanne must then decide whether to give up everything and live this all engulfing passion to the fullest. Note: This film is presented in French with English subtitles.