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Marshall Fine

Marshall Fine

Posted: September 29, 2010 08:08 AM

HuffPost Review: Leaving

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As obsessive love stories go, Leaving is a winner -- at once achingly passionate and painfully doomed. It's the story of a relationship that is blatantly self-destructive, even as the person who is destroying her own life flounders about wondering why she can't have things the way she wants.

Her name is Suzanne and, as played by Kristin Scott Thomas, she's the wife of a French doctor named Samuel (Yvan Attal), living a bourgeois life in the south of France. But her kids are now teens and she's tired of the housewife routine. So she decides to go back to work as a physical therapist.

To encourage her, her husband gives her an out-building on their property and hires a contractor to convert it into her workspace. The contractor, in turn, brings in a Spanish workman named Ivan (Sergi Lopez, the villainous officer in Pan's Labyrinth) to do the actual labor, presumably off the books.

Suzanne steps up to help him empty the junk out of the space, then hangs around while he's working, bringing him beverages. Eventually, she has to choose tile for the office -- and winds up causing a car accident that lands Ivan in the hospital with a broken ankle.

She nurses him -- and, despite little obvious flirtation, they plunge into a fiercely physical affair. Suzanne finds herself so drawn to Ivan -- so transformed by their relationship -- that, after a few trysts, she goes home and tells Samuel that she's having an affair. But she apologizes and Samuel agrees that, since she says it's over, he will forgive and forget. They will go on as if nothing has happened.

But Suzanne can't stay away from Ivan -- and winds up packing her bag and moving in with him. She is following her bliss, as it were -- but Samuel is not the kind of guy who loses easily. Suddenly, this well-off housewife finds herself without money or means, living with an itinerant Spanish day laborer who has a criminal record and who is taking menial work where he can get it in France.

Writer-director Catherine Corsini gives Suzanne a stubborn willfulness that proves to be her tragic flaw. Suzanne can't comprehend why others -- i.e., Samuel, her daughter -- won't simply leave her alone to have the thing that fulfills her. To Suzanne, Samuel is being petty and vindictive in keeping her out of her own home, cutting off her bank accounts and credit cards and, essentially, leaving her impoverished.

So she uses her key to get back into their house and make off with valuables that she feels are as much hers as her husband's. But, in doing so, she ignores the fact that her sense of entitlement -- and her belief that the courts will eventually give them to her -- don't excuse her from what is, in the law's eyes, breaking, entering and burglary.

It's the definition of an amour fou, one that puts the person affected off-balance and out of her right mind. Thomas makes Suzanne an eminently reasonable person who can't see her own madness on this one issue. She's aflame with desire, short-circuited in her logic in a way that is apparent to everyone but herself.

Thomas simmers just below a boil in her scenes with Attal, erupting eventually in anger, a driven person headed down the wrong street. She's on a similarly short fuse with Lopez, constantly on the verge of becoming unhinged by desire that blinds her to the false premises on which she operates.

It's dramatically adult, a story of rage and near-obsession: a woman who abandons her past but resents having to give up her lifestyle as a result. She wants her cake -- but the title of Leaving tells it all.

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