(2009) Romance (IFC) Kristin Scott Thomas, Sergi Lopez, Yvan Attal, Bernard Blancan, Aladin Reibel, Alexandre Vidal, Daisy Broom, Berta Esquirol, Gerard Lartigau, Genevieve Casile, Philippe Laudenbach, Michele Ernou, Jonathan Cohen, Helene Babu. Directed by Catherine Corsini
Cheating on a spouse is one of the great universal taboos. It is not acceptable in any culture that I’m aware of, although there seems to be some tolerance in some European cultures for middle aged men to have younger mistresses.
That same tolerance isn’t extended to middle aged women however. Case in point, Catherine Corsini’s Leaving, a French film which explores the subject. Middle aged Suzanne (Thomas) has lived most of her life in France (she’s English) and had put her successful career as a physical therapist on hold to raise her children. Now that they’re nearly gone, she’s eager to resume her career and to that end her tightfisted husband Samuel (Attal), a physician, is remodeling a shed in the yard to serve as her office. He’s hired Ivan (Lopez), a Spanish emigrant, to do the work – under the table, of course.
When Suzanne forgets to set the parking brake on her car, sturdy Ivan chases it down but it runs over his foot. Mortified, Suzanne feels a bit guilty knowing that he was planning to travel to Spain and visit his daughter from another marriage. She feels obligated to drive him there. Along the way they get to talking, get to know each other…and at the trip’s conclusion, they kiss.
Of course one thing leads to another and soon the two are embarking on a torrid physical affair. At first Suzanne is happy for the first time in a very long time and soon she comes to realize that her marriage has been a loveless sham. She wants this. She wants it all. And she tells Samuel so.
Big mistake. Samuel as you can guess doesn’t take all too kindly to this. When Suzanne leaves, he freezes all her funds. She is left with no money and no career. As her finances dwindle into desperation stage, she resorts to taking some of her things from her home. When Ivan tries to sell them, he’s arrested for stealing them as Samuel had reported them stolen.
When Suzanne begs Samuel for mercy, he tells her quite matter-of-factly if she returns home to her old life, Ivan will be set free. The horror of her situation causes Suzanne to faint. But unconsciousness won’t put off the decision for too long – and it’s a decision with ramifications far beyond what’s expected.
Now on paper it sounds pretty straightforward. Love is the answer, isn’t it? Wellllllll, not always. Suzanne’s commitment to Samuel is both legal and moral and breaking it isn’t without repercussions in both areas. Her carnal re-awakening seems to have overwhelmed her thoughts about the ramifications of her actions to her children and her community. But she’s entitled to happiness, isn’t she?
It’s a delicate question. Samuel seems to be quite a good guy at least initially – a little bit miserly but nothing too horrible. He seems genuinely supportive of his wife. It is only after the affair becomes known to him that he turns into a real bastard. Attal captures both sides of Samuel quite nicely.
Thomas, an Oscar winner for The English Patient, has become one of the biggest stars in France and is quite frankly one of the best actresses on the planet although she isn’t usually considered as such here but she makes Suzanne compelling, even though she’s not always what you would call the nicest of people. She’s kind of a bitch in fact and when we see her faced with her worst dilemma, her reaction is not only unjustified but it’s not unexpected.
This isn’t a hearts and roses kind of movie. It really looks at the seedier side of love and the results are catastrophic for everyone involved. There are some very intense sex scenes here with Thomas and Lopez, but the affair seems to be much more about the physical than about the romantic. It’s a fairly cynical look at love which is a pretty un-Gallic point of view in my opinion. Still, Thomas is so excellent and the cinematography so beautiful that one can overlook the fairly unremarkable story and consider the double standard I alluded to earlier – how different a film would this have been if it had been Samuel having the affair?
WHY RENT THIS: Thomas at her very best. Highly erotic.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Pedantic story really has little to say. Lead characters are so selfish and unlikable that it is difficult to root for them.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s quite a bit of sexuality and some violence; also a bit of bad language and situations more suitable for adults than children.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Leaving represents the 15th film directed by Corsini since her first La mesange in 1982.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.1M on an unreported production budget; I think the movie most likely broke even.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Unfaithful
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Cinema of the Heart 2013 Day 2