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Friday, 10 December 2010 01:00

"Leaving" leaves only an emotional impact

"Leaving" leaves only an emotional impact
Written by Diane Carson
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When she first appears in Leaving, Suzanne has a successful dentist husband and two fine teenage children: a daughter and a son. The Vidals apparently live well in Nimes, in the south of France, enjoying supportive family and friends. But contentment eludes middle-aged, restless Suzanne, who decides to restart her career as a physiotherapist. Everything will soon change.

What causes this disruption in their lives begins when husband Samuel hires Spaniard Ivan to remodel an unused shed into an office space for Suzanne. The subsequent, entirely predictable affair will lead to unexpected reactions, signaled by the opening scene of Suzanne calmly rising from her bed to get a gun, explained fully only in the film's conclusion.

As this opening scene announces, Leaving will often succumb to melodramatic and contrived moments. The intense passion among the three principals does create momentum as lust and indulgence run headlong into anger and retribution. French director/co-writer Catherine Corsini makes the most of Kristin Scott Thomas' delicate appeal, Sergi Lopez's strong earthiness, and Yvan Attal's indignant control. But because it remains largely unexplored, the behavior by Suzanne and Samuel, in particular, adds up to a disappointingly superficial, though lovingly photographed, soap opera. When it turns serious, it has something to say as it depicts the devastating economic blow when women leave with no independent financial resources. Again, though, this is played too strongly for emotion rather than insightful observation.

On the whole, French writers and directors have perfected narratives focused on personal, intimate relationships of all sorts. From comic to dramatic, lightweight to tragic, their stories present the struggles of real lives in impressive, deceptively casual ways. Let Hollywood invest in huge budget, action adventures. More memorable are the dynamic interactions between ordinary individuals. Unfortunately, Leaving measures up only moderately to the high standards of the best of these films. American audiences will have to readjust expectations to enjoy the acting more than the action.

In French with English subtitles. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Theatre.

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