DEPARTURE (UK/France/IFI/109mins)
Directed by Andrew Stegall. Starring Juliet Stevenson, Alex Lawther, Phénix Brossard, Finbar Lynch, Niamh Cusack, Patrice Juiff.
THE PLOT: It’s France, it’s a faded marriage, and Beatrice (Stevenson) is clearing out the family holiday home with her 15-year-old son, Elliot (Lawther). When Elliot makes friends with Clément (Brossard), he’s soon helping with the furniture moving. And kissing Beatrice on the sly. And getting handjobs from Elliot.
Hey, when in France…
When the man of the soon-to-be-sold house, Philip (Lynch), arrives, tensions rise, as awkward family truths have to be confronted.
Hey, when in France..
THE VERDICT: As you may have gathered, there’s something very French about this UK/France production, despite all the heavy hitters being English. Swap Stevenson for Kristin Scott Thomas, and you’d be on very familiar ground. Described by its debuting writer/director Andrew Steggall as “a mythological eulogy to love and loss”, the overriding sense of melancholy and the wallowing in the sensual world as much as the practical gives ‘Departure’ a seductive gaze.
That Stegall overplays the sensual world imagery every now and then is perhaps forgiveable, given the forlorn storyline and the beautiful Languedoc landscape. And Stevenson is, as always, compelling to watch, a woman drowning, but keeping all her panic beneath the water…
Review by Paul Byrne

Review by Paul Byrne
  • filmbuff2011

    Departure marks the feature debut of writer/director Andrew Steggall – and it’s a quietly devastating one at that. Having made a number of short films, his debut certainly marks him out as a name to watch.

    Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) and her teenage son Elliot (Alex Lawther) are packing away their things. They’ve spent summers in their French country house, but now it’s time to leave the South of France and move back home to England. Beatrice is mostly taken up with the move and the impending arrival of her husband Philip (Finbar Lynch), with whom she has a fractious relationship. A divorce is not far away. Elliot is not unaware of this and wanders about and amuses himself. An aspiring writer and poet, he wants to absorb what time he has left in France. It’s at this point that he spots French teenager Clement (Phenix Brossard) swimming in a river. Entranced, he strikes up a close friendship with Clement. Clement has problems with his own family, given that his mother has cancer and is losing her mind too. Elliot and Clement become closer, until a one-off incident changes things…

    Departure begins with a quote about knowing things before you know them i.e. premonition. If there’s a premonition here, it’s in the implosion of this nuclear family. The detritus is all the various things that have to be packed away, thrown away or burned. There’s a significance in this throughout. Beatrice has collected many things over the years and needs to figure out what’s important, in a similar way to Davis in Demolition recently. The sensitive Elliot knows that all is not well in her marriage and seeks out someone to talk to in Clement. Steggall is making an astute point about the fact that parents often take their children for granted, but want to shield them from adult problems.

    Departure is admittedly a slow British film, in much the same way as 45 Years recently. Not much actually happens, but that’s not an issue. For this is a film which also leaves a lot unsaid, allowing audiences to fill in the blanks and draw their own conclusions about what’s coming ahead for these characters. The ever-reliable Stevenson hints at a world of pain as her marriage is on the verge of collapse, but it’s Lawther who really impresses. Having made quite an impression as a young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, Steggall just has to point the camera at his face and let his soulful eyes and facial expressions do the talking. It’s a fascinating performance, full of wide-eyed innocence and longing for a connection with another person other than his parents.

    Brian Fawcett’s gorgeous cinematography is worth a mention too, as it makes clever use of slow motion in water and a memorable dream sequence in which leaves gently fall indoors onto Elliot. It’s an artistic film without being pompous or full of self-importance. Departure requires patience, but it’s a carefully measured, contemplative and powerful film in its own right. Seek it out if you’re looking for something a bit different. ****