Departure

 

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The south of France provides a memorable setting for a boy’s discovery of his sexuality.

 
Departure


 

Sexual awakening in adolescence had become a familiar theme in cinema over the years, and not least in gay cinema. Since Departure is being distributed by Peccadillo Pictures, there is no surprise here when Elliot (Alex Lawther), a rather intellectual youth, realises that his fascination with a boy of comparable age, Clément (Phénix Brosard), is confirmation of his own sexuality. The context in which this happens is that Elliot has accompanied his mother, Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson), to pack up everything in their former holiday home in the south of France. This is being done because the property is to be sold, and Beatrice’s evident unhappiness is down not just to this but to the collapse of her marriage to Philip (Finbar Lynch), Elliot’s father. In contrast, Clément is French but also has his tale of woe since his mother is dying of cancer in Paris and, due to a violent incident, he has been sent away to stay with his aunt in the south.

Because such a tale offers opportunities to display attractive young bodies, it is often the subject of films keener to be commercial than artistic. Not so Departure. Andrew Steggall, the writer/director making his feature debut, undoubtedly aspires to art. One can guess that he admires Andrew Haigh’s splendid Weekend and Hong Khaou’s sensitive Lilting. Sadly he is not one of those whose talents seem commensurate with their ambitions. In Departure he adopts a slow pace but fails to find the depth and detail to sustain it (away from gay cinema, Tom Browne’s Radiator provides a comparison illustrating how to do it).

Much of the time the weakness is in the writing. Very late on we are enabled to understand the depths of Beatrice’s unhappiness, but until then the role seems decidedly underwritten and at times her behaviour is unpersuasive. Stevenson fails to arouse any sympathy for her. In contrast Lawther (impressive as the young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game) and Brossard fare better, but it is a handicap that the audience in anticipating events are so far ahead of the plot. When what we have been expecting finally happens, Steggall gives Lawther a speech that sounds totally theatrical. Indeed the longer the film goes on, the more its artiness grates. Earlier we have had a bizarre shot reminiscent of Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane and now we have symbolical leaves falling indoors. That is as inappropriate as the sudden introduction of a song on the soundtrack in what has mainly been presented in a naturalistic style. Towards the end there is a supposedly surprise revelation that is all too predictable and Steggall underlines the artiness in the last few minutes with underwater shots. Clearly Steggall means well and I wish that I could regard Departure as a success, but in all honesty I can’t.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Juliet Stevenson, Alex Lawther, Phénix Brossard, Naimh Cusack, Patrice Juiff, Finbar Lynch, Wilson Moore.

 

Dir Andrew Steggall, Pro Pietro Greppi, Guillaume Tobo and Cora Palfrey, Screenplay Andrew Steggall, Ph Brian Fawcett, Ed Dounia Sichov, Music Jools Scott, Costumes Holly Waddington.

 

BFI/Amaro Films/a Motion Group Pictures and Connectic Studio production-Peccadillo Pictures Ltd.
109 mins. UK/France. 2015. Rel: 20 May 2016. Cert. 15.