Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Kristin Scott Thomas in Leaving

No one enjoys infidelity like the French. So, when immigrant workers starting taking amorous affairs away from Frenchmen, it will surely lead to trouble. Indeed, there are definite social and class-based issues in play when an English wife leaves her French husband for Spanish migrant worker, but old fashioned jealousy trumps them all in Catherine Corsini’s Leaving (trailer here), a star showcase for Kristin Scott Thomas that opens this Friday in New York.

Suzanne and Samuel’s teenaged son and daughter are not quite out the door yet, but that day is fast approaching. Increasingly bored around the house, Suzanne wants to re-launch the physical therapy career she put on hold for the sake of motherhood. Her doctor husband obliges her, hiring Spanish day labors to renovate the garage into her private office. As fate would have it, this includes the hulking but sensitive Ivan. Though their initial attraction is relatively circumspect, when Suzanne tends to Ivan after he suffers injuries in an accident she caused, the embers ignite.

Before you can say Madame Bovary, Suzanne has left her husband for her lover. Unfortunately, Samuel is not the sort of person to accept such rejection, so he uses his local clout to make life hard for them. Given Leaving’s flashback structure, it is safe to say this will all end in tragedy.

A number of French infidelity films have found their way to art theaters in recent months (the excellent Let it Rain, the good Mademoiselle Chambon, the so-so Change of Plans), but Scott Thomas’s tour de force performance truly distinguishes Leaving. As Suzanne, she is exquisitely sensitive and truly fearless. Though there is fine work from Yvan Attal in the rather thankless role of the spurned Samuel and Sergei Lopez as the passionate everyman Ivan, Scott Thomas makes the film.

Corsini wisely focuses on her lead, allowing Scott Thomas to shine. Still, Leaving (written by Corsini with “the collaboration” of Gaëlle Macé) is also a remarkably honest depiction of familial turmoil. Though it is hardly pretty either, the children’s choosing up sides (son David with his mother, daughter Marion with their father) rings especially true.

Suggesting echoes of Breathless and I am Love, Leaving exalts in-the-moment passion, even as the consequences come crashing down around the furtive lovers. Yet, the extent to which it stacks the deck against Samuel would be a blatant distraction, if it were not for Scott Thomas’s riveting performance, powering the film past such flaws. Indeed she is the reason to see the film. Highly recommended for Scott Thomas’s flawless turn, Leaving opens this Friday (10/1) in New York at the IFC Center.