For viewers who found Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love (2009) to be altogether too florid, Catherine Corsini’s Leaving (Partir) (2009) offers a more sober alternative. Corsini’s engaging drama tells of the affair between a bourgeois matriarch, Suzanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), and the rugged Spanish builder, Ivan (Sergi López), who’s been hired to work on the family home. When Suzanne finally makes the decision to leave her family to be with Ivan she doesn’t count on the reaction of her petulant husband Samuel (Ivan Attal) who dedicates himself to systematically putting as many obstacles in the way of the couple as possible.
Leaving has a superb first half. There’s a marvellous briskness to Corsini’s story-telling as she establishes Suzanne and Ivan’s growing attraction, not to mention a wonderful hook of an opening sequence that’s a little reminiscent of the beginning of François Ozon’s Sitcom (1998). (The movie’s bracing critique of marriage is rather Ozonion, too, though it's doubtless Lady Chatterley's Lover that's the principal intertext for this movie.) Without lingering over scenes, Corsini makes the viewer feel their emotional weight and she’s helped by a strong performance from Scott Thomas as a woman succumbing to passion only to be brought up short by the realisation that living out that passion will be a much rockier course than she could've imagined. What Corsini is interested in exploring, clearly, is the fall-out from Suzanne’s leaving, and just how difficult a separation can be made for a woman when the man holds all the financial cards. This writer-director certainly doesn’t allow her characters any easy escape or reprieve from economic and other realities.
The second half of the movie is a little choppier: you hear the plot gears grinding at times, and some elements - particularly Suzanne’s relationship with her two children - begin to feel under-explored. And by the end it might be argued that Attal (who seems to be in practically every other French movie these days) is reduced to playing a representative of patriarchal oppression rather than a character. Even so, Leaving is a thoughtful film that deserves to be seen. It may lack the dizzying expressionist exhilarations of I Am Love but out of fairly familiar material Corsini has crafted a compelling, astute and often insightful drama here.