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Movie review: 'Leaving'

Kristin Scott Thomas stars in a French love story in which romance takes a backseat to delivering a message about repression in society.

October 08, 2010|By Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic

"Leaving" is a particularly bleak love story, a film from France that's as interested in making points about the repressive nature of society as it is in celebrating a relationship between two people.

Given that one of the two people is played by Kristin Scott Thomas, who gives an involved performance as a married woman suddenly bowled over by her fervor for another man, there are things in this film to hold our interest. But anyone looking for characters as truly human and sympathetic as those in this year's "Mademoiselle Chambon" will be looking in vain.

It's no accident that "Leaving" is as didactic as it is romantic. Writer-director Catherine Corsini, obviously inspired by Flaubert's "Madame Bovary," has made a film intent on conveying what she describes as "a social, political dimension" having to do with the minimal real-world leverage wives have in a patriarchal society.

After starting out with an unmistakable sound that's definitely not a bellwether of happiness, "Leaving" flashes back to six months before that moment to fill us in on what led up to such a dramatic incident.

Scott Thomas' Suzanne is introduced as a wife and mother of the requisite pair of monosyllabic teens. With her children almost grown, she has decided to return to her former career as a physiotherapist and convinces her husband to allow some of their storage space to be remodeled into a home office.

That willingness to remodel is the last even minimally decent impulse Suzanne's reprehensible husband, Samuel (Yvan Attal), is allowed. An arrogant physician who never admits to being wrong, Samuel is so one-dimensional that he turns "Leaving's" plot into a stacked deck that is too predictable for its own good.

A penny-pincher in addition to his other stellar qualities, Samuel ends up hiring Spanish immigrant Ivan (Sergi Lopez) to do his wife's remodeling because he is willing to work cheaply and off the books.

A hunky type with a devil-may-care attitude, Ivan does not immediately spark to Suzanne, but unlikely coincidence piled on unlikely coincidence results in a totally contrived situation in which she ends up driving him to Spain so he can spend some quality time with a young daughter from a previous marriage.

Once Ivan and Suzanne get to know each other better, they become prisoners of a powerful connection that is intensely physical, leading to a series of fairly graphic sexual encounters that telegraph their compatibility.

Apparently clueless as to the type of man she's been married to for 20 years, Suzanne promptly tells her husband that she's fallen madly in love, fully expecting, it seems, that he will exhibit in this crisis the kind of generosity he's never shown in calmer times.

Rising to the occasion, Samuel behaves like a bigger jerk than usual, making everyone so inhumanly miserable that filmmaker Corsini is telling the truth when she says he "uses every means at his disposal, even the most disgusting, to keep her from leaving."

Although Samuel's meanness is intended to infuriate us, it is more likely to alienate audiences than rouse them to anything like fury. If "Leaving" is a romantic parable, it is a dark and depressing one, emphasizing not the sensuality of attraction but rather the obsessive side of romantic behavior. This is mad love for sure, and that is not usually a pretty picture.

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