After raising two children in the south of France as a bourgeois doctor's wife, Suzanne (Kristin Scott Thomas, "I've Loved You So Long," "Nowhere Boy") decides she'd like to go back to work as a physiotherapist. Her husband Samuel (Yvan Attal, "My Wife Is an Actress," "Munich") agrees to create a consulting room for her on their property, but when Suzanne meets the ex-con, Ivan (Sergi López, "Harry, He's Here to Help," "Pan's Labyrinth"), hired to do the job, the mutual attraction is so strong all she can think about is "Leaving."
Cowriter (with Gaëlle Macé, "A Common Thread")/director Catherine Corsini has overcooked an amour fou that is just too fou, given a trashy beach read the art house treatment all gussied up with three good actors and Agnès Godard's typically stunning cinematography. Star Scott Thomas throws herself into this madness so whole-heartedly, one almost feels embarrassment for her. As her character's son, David (Alexandre Vidal), says at one point, 'Mom, that was crazy.'
Corsini uses a beautifully economical image to open her film, the Vidals glass paneled front door, next to which a wrought iron staircase ascends. Suzanne seems happy enough in her clean, modern country home but her husband, Samuel, is tightly wound, criticizing contractor Rémi's (Bernard Blancan, "Days of Glory") costs. So Rémi brings under the table labor in the form of the Catalonian Ivan in. When Ivan wonders how he will clear all the junk the Vidals have stored in the backyard building, Suzanne pitches in. There's a friendly flirtation from the onset, then Suzanne forgets to put her car in gear when loading tiles and Ivan suffers a broken ankle running after it. Samuel treats him in the hospital, where Ivan insists he must leave in order to see his young daughter in Spain for the first time in a year. Guilty, Suzanne offers to drive him.
After that trip, where Ivan dared to kiss her after dinner, Suzanne cannot stay away. She calls in sick with her physiotherapist mentor, Dr. Lagache (Gérard Lartigau, "Indochine"). She tells Samuel about the affair and promises never to see him again (Samuel, the über-villain of the piece, does the macho thing, drilling her about the number of times she had sex, then gifts her with handcuff-like bangles). It's a promise she cannot keep and she goes out of control, arriving home late for a dinner she was supposed to prepare for Samuel's parents with take-out. Samuel locks her in a room. She climbs out the window.
Things escalate into madness. Although it is clear Ivan would be way better off without Suzanne, Corsini and the actor keep it a bit ambiguous as to what his feelings are, his only comments concern about how low she has sunk. Samuel does everything to destroy them until Suzanne agrees to come home. When she does, she's like a cognizant Stepford Wife.
Scott Thomas is an actress capable of great subtlety, but this role is so melodramatic it's almost impossible. She is as convincing as she could be, but her obsession escalates so rapidly and her circumstances make her behavior so crazy it begins to verge into silliness. López is much more grounded, but Corsini makes him too perfect, just as she draws Dr. Vidal as a tyrant without clarifying his motivation (sheer jealousy? true love? abhorence of scandal?). Even the Vidal children are black and white, David supportive of his mother, daughter Marion (Daisy Broom) callously judgmental.
The whole thing is certainly watchable, in a trashy kind of way. Corsini, along with Scott Thomas and López, certainly films her sex scenes well, the lovers' heat apparent without being unduly licentious. Godard has given this dark tale such a bright look it glows, although Corsini's inconsistent use of fade to black in between scenes calls attention to itself.
"Leaving" is a glossy melodrama that does not know the meaning of restraint. It's watchable as pure guilty pleasure.
Robin's review coming soon!
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