Leaving (Partir)


There's no passion quite like illicit passion...

There’s no passion quite like illicit passion…

(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

Cinema of the Heart

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

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Mother and Child


Mother and Child

Nobody beats Samuel L. Jackson in a staredown. Nobody.

(2009) Drama (Sony Classics) Naomi Watts, Annette Benning, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits, David Morse, Marc Blucas, Shareeka Epps, Lisa Gay Hamilton, S. Epetha Merkerson, David Ramsey, Eileen Ryan, Cherry Jones, Amy Brenneman, Tatyana Ali, Elizabeth Pena. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia

 

Motherhood has a unique place in the female psyche. It may well be the driving force; the urge to procreate and then care and nurture for that child. Sometimes it’s not always possible for those instincts to be indulged the way you want to.

Karen (Benning) is an emotionally brittle caregiver in every sense of the word – by day she works as a physical therapist, by night she returns home to care for her elderly mother (Ryan). Karen is not the easiest person to get along with; she tends to keep people at arm’s length. She’d had a baby when she was 14 and was forced to give her up for adoption. That has haunted Karen’s entire life; she won’t let anyone in, not even sweet-natured co-worker Paco (Smits), although his patience seems to be limitless.

Elizabeth (Watts) is a driven attorney who never seems satisfied with anything in life. She is hard, occasionally crude and tends to keep people at arm’s length. She has started work in a new firm, and in order to cement her position – and possibly even improve it – she has initiated an affair with her boss, Paul (Jackson). It is a relationship all about sex, power and ambition. Elizabeth was adopted and seems to have no desire at all to find out who her birth mother is (although I’m sure you can guess). However, her world turns upside down when she discovers she’s pregnant.

Lucy (Washington) is unable to have children. She and her husband Joseph (Ramsey) have elected to adopt and are looking for a baby to call their own. The agency that Lucy is going through, whose representative is Sister Joanne (Jones), sends along several expectant mothers who are giving up their babies for adoption. Ray (Epps) seems to be a suitable candidate, but she is understandably picky about what kind of home her baby will be placed in and has enough attitude to choke an elephant.

All three of these women’s lives are entwined in ways that are both visible and invisible. Their stories may be told separately, but they are all a part of the same story, one that will not end as expected for all of them.

This is a bit different than most ensemble anthology dramas in that the story really is a single story although told from the viewpoints of three different characters. Much of the story is telegraphed – anyone who doesn’t figure out that Elizabeth is Karen’s biological daughter is probably not smarter than a fifth grader. However, it is saved by some pretty good performances.

Benning, who would get Oscar consideration for her performance in The Kids are All Right that year showed why she is as underrated an actress as there is in America. It is difficult at best to play an emotionally closed-off character and still make them sympathetic, but Benning does it. In some ways this was a tougher role than the one that got her all the acclaim that year but because the movie wasn’t nearly as good as the other one she probably didn’t get the scrutiny here.

Watts also has a similarly difficult job and while she doesn’t pull it off quite as successfully as Benning does nevertheless acquits herself well and shows why she is also a formidable actress given the right material. Sometimes she flies under the radar, mainly because her films aren’t always as buzz-worthy but time after time she delivers film-carrying performances and while she isn’t the household name she deserves to be, she is still well-respected in Hollywood as one of the top actresses working today and this movie illustrates why.

The ending smacks a little bit of movie of the week schmaltz and the story relies way too much on coincidence. However one has to give the filmmakers credit for putting together a movie that is female-centric and tackles the effects of adoption on the birth mother, the child given up for adoption and the person doing the adoption in a somewhat creative manner. While other critics liked the movie a little more than I did (and I can understand why, truly), the contrived nature of the plot held the film back from a better rating. Had the three stories been a little bit more independent of each other I think it would have made for a better overall film. Not all stories have to be wrapped up with a neat little bow.

WHY RENT THIS: A surprisingly potent examination of women and their maternal instincts. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending strives for grace and lyricism but falls short.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some sex and nudity, along with a decent dose of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Naomi Watts was pregnant with her son Samuel during filming; when you see her baby moving in utero during one scene, that’s actually Samuel.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.0M on a $7M production budget; the movie wasn’t a financial success from a box office perspective.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Motherhood

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls