Middle aged, middle class mother Beatrice (Stevenson) and her well educated, somewhat obnoxious, script-writing fixated son Elliot (Lawther) return to their holiday home in the South of France to pack away their belongings before the property is sold. During his studious wanderings around the local area, he discovers resident boy Clement (Brossard) smoking and swimming semi-naked in a local off-limits reservoir. Keen to discover more about the boy, Elliot approaches him at his workshop and they soon become friends. Clement immediately starts to help out around the house, packing and moving the furniture, having dinner and sharing his low opinions of Parisians. Elliot rapidly recognises that he has more than just friendly feelings towards his new pal and goes through an emotional and spiritual journey as he struggles with his new found sexual sensations. The fly in the ointment however is that Beatrice, while busying herself baking cakes and going through decade-old paperwork, also has a lustful eye on the young muscular Frenchman.
Although many would argue that love knows no bounds and opposites attract, it’s genuinely difficult to recognise why Elliot and Clement would be remotely interested in each other. It’s not necessarily because of their different backgrounds and education, more that their whole personalities are at odds with each other. While Elliot is given time to express the initial confusion and subsequently progressive recognition of his feelings, Clement’s sudden sexual desire towards his friend feels misplaced and unlikely. Stevenson’s sexual frustration and emotional desperation are understandable but are not allowed to develop to make the desire blossom in a temporally realistic manner.
Lawther puts in a decent performance but on occasion over-acts a little (think Frankie Muniz attempting to solve his sexual orientation crisis when suddenly realising his brothers have just replaced his fruit juice with Absinthe). Brossard is fortunate to be given a more interesting character curve than Lawther and so manages to bring a bit more edge and teenage angst to proceedings, although none of which are remotely related to his new found sexual leanings. Apart from one moment of rage towards to end, Stevenson’s Beatrice is so tediously one dimensional that she struggles to bring any life to the screen and is consistently guilty of one too many wistful gazes into the distance.
It could be argued that Departure suffers from feeling a little too English; too many cutaways of trees swaying in the wind, a dreary meandering plot, too much ‘Oh, but, I…Oh…’ littering the dialogue. Yet 45 Years managed the same impression of Sunday morning cricket gradualness with an underlying pacey narrative that consistently surprised and engaged. At no point do any of the main characters in Departure feel appealing and this disconnection between character and audience restricts any empathy from surfacing. From the first seconds of the initial title credits, the storyline is set out in stone and never deviates from its plainly obvious outcome.
It’s difficult to know what Departure set out to achieve in the first place, but whatever it was, it doesn’t seem to have succeeded. Although there are fleeting moments of satisfaction, too much of the film is bogged down with reflective poetry and introspective contemplation from increasingly trying characters. This all coalesces to form Departure’s most damning criticism; that for all its supposed solemnity and intended depth, it regularly gives the odious impression that it takes itself far too seriously.
2 / 5
Dir: Andrew Steggall
Scr: Andrew Steggall
Cast: Juliet Stevenson, Alex Lawther, Phénix Brossard
Prd: Pietro Greppi, Cora Palfrey, Guillaume Tobo
Music: Jools Scott
Country: UK, France
Run Time: 109 minutes
Departure is in cinemas now