Gone, baby, gone: 'Leaving' is best as a look at new un-entitlement
The only reason to see “Leaving’’ — and it’s not a bad reason at all — is for the sight of Kristin Scott Thomas in a rare happy mood. This great, intelligent greyhound of an actress, fleet of emotion and elegant of step, has lately been stuck in a rut: John Lennon’s controlling Aunt Mimi in “Nowhere Boy,’’ the thin-lipped upper-class mama of “Easy Virtue.’’ Even her heartsore ex-con in “I’ve Loved You So Long’’ had to throttle back her feelings.
That film was French and so is “Leaving’’ — Scott Thomas is very smart about crossing the Channel to find parts suited to her age and gifts. Catherine Corsini’s tale of a bourgeois housewife who throws it all away for a passionate affair with an immigrant construction worker is, to put it bluntly, stale goods. Lady Chatterley has been here, as have Tilda Swinton in last year’s “I Am Love’’ and many others in between.
Yet the bliss Scott Thomas conveys as her character, Suzanne, gladly lets go and caves in to sexual ecstasy is worth the boilerplate plotting and recriminations. The actress’ body language turns loose and sensual; her face glows with the contentments of lust. If you don’t quite believe that this woman would leave her husband and children to follow her lover into fringe criminality, at least you believe that she believes it.
Corsini sketches in Suzanne’s home situation with a light pen; we never really understand what the stakes are. Curt workaholic husband (Yvan Attal), stroppy teenage kids (Alexandre Vidal and Daisy Broom), a gor geous, airy home in the South of France: It all fades away when she meets Ivan (Sergi López), a handyman hired to fix up her home office. He has jail time in his past and a young daughter back in Spain, but Suzanne sees his stolid gentleness and López, who previously has specialized in playing agreeably evil men (“Pan’s Labyrinth,’’ “With a Friend Like Harry . . .’’), lets us see it, too. Suzanne is clearly both the best and worst thing that has ever happened to him.
The husband doesn’t take it well, obviously. His mistake is to treat his wife as just another asset, freezing her bank account and sending the couple into an increasingly desperate spiral. “Leaving’’ is most interesting when it examines what happens to an entitled woman when her entitlements are taken away. All that remains is a noble willfulness, and it isn’t nearly enough.
Yet as lovely as the settings are and as fearlessly good as Scott Thomas is, the movie feels generic as it rolls toward the violent conclusion we’ve glimpsed in the opening scenes. A musical score literally borrowed from the films of Francois Truffaut hints at what Corsini’s going for: the scary, liberating madness of Jeanne Moreau’s Catherine in “Jules and Jim’’ or Isabelle Adjani in “The Story of Adele H.’’
The comparison with “I Am Love’’ is more apt. Where that movie was so melodramatic (and Swinton so imperious) as to put off many moviegoers, it also had the courage of its craziness. “Leaving’’ is a far tidier affair, and only its star leaves a scorch mark.