Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Smoldering passions


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If we are drowning, what will we do to catch our breath to survive? How do we cope when our world is slipping away? These elegiac questions are at the heart of Departure, the new DVD release from Wolfe Video, which explores loss and the role it can play in awakening sexuality. Subtlety with minor eruptions pervades this very English film, as reserved characters struggle to communicate with each other, and secrets are revealed. The movie's opening line, "Do you think you can know something before you know it?" expresses the dilemma of all its characters, in a story of emotional meltdown and coming of age.

Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) and her 15-year-old son Elliot (Alex Lawther) arrive at their family holiday home, which has been sold, in the rural Langue doc region of southern France to pack up their belongings and dispose of the furniture. Beatrice's marriage to Elliot's father Philip (Finbar Lynch) is ending. While hiking through the countryside, Elliot spies the slightly older local boy Clement (Phenix Brossard) stripped to his shorts as he jumps into the local reservoir for a swim. Infatuated with lust, he introduces himself and gets Clement to help finish packing the house as a way to get closer with him. Elliot is becoming aware of his burgeoning gay sexuality. Although Clement is primarily straight, he doesn't discourage Elliot's feeble attempts at intimacy, appreciating the attention and companionship. There is an unintentionally funny scene with a carrot that will have the audience seeing the vegetable in a non-culinary light.

Elliot, a quiet, aspiring poet, dresses in an oversized military jacket, carrying a notebook to scribble down thoughts, mimicking his hero Rimbaud. But the brash Clement is not afraid to call him on his pretentiousness. Elliot learns how to smoke from Clement, becoming increasingly centered on him. They do more hiking than packing. Clement is a temporary lodger in the village, living with his aunt as his mother dies of brain cancer in Paris. Beatrice is growing increasingly erratic, mourning memories of a life that grounded her. Now she dreads starting over. She is attracted to Clement as well, which drives a wedge into her relationship with Elliot, who sees her as a threat. Philip arrives to sign the sale papers for the house and reveals his own secrets. How these smoldering passions are reconciled constitutes the remainder of the film.

Departure is a moody eulogy abetted by the shimmering cinematography of Brian Fawcett, which transforms the French countryside into an elegant Monet painting. Yet this tranquility is pierced by resentments and repressed desires, as each character tries to escape from isolation. Do they realize that healing can come only by opening up to each other? Departure is awash in loss metaphors, from the title to autumnal imagery to Elliot's dreams of leaping into water and not drowning, an obvious symbol of accepting his sexuality.

Lawther, who played the young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, shows he is comfortable playing unsettling characters. At times peevish, self-absorbed and manipulative, Elliot eventually gains the audience's sympathy. Stevenson is used superbly here as a woman overwhelmed by regret. Stage writer/director Andrew Steagall, in his debut, avoids melodrama. For those willing to allow its simmering turmoil to erupt and become restorative, the rewards of Departure will be many.

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