Departure (2016) Review

Directed by Andrew Steggall.
Starring Juliet Stevenson, Alex Lowther, Phénix Brossard, Niamh Cusack, Patrice Juiff and Finbar Lynch.


SYNOPSIS: Beatrice (Stevenson) is in the middle of a separation from her husband and is trying to work out how to live life on her own terms. Together with her son, Elliot (Lawther) they have come to their holiday home in the French countryside where they are getting ready to pack up and sell the house. Whilst on the trip, Elliot meets the handsome French bad boy, Clément (Brossard) and he begins to work through the dawning of his own sexuality and alienation from his mother.

Phenix and Alex Lawther in Departure

An instant favourite of mine and definitely one of my top 10 of the year, Departure is a masterpiece, visually and textually gorgeous. The script is phenomenal, the kind you can pick apart for hours after seeing the film, so nuanced that, if it hadn’t been a film, it could have worked magnificently on stage. It is the first feature film from director Andrew Steggall, who has spent years training and performing in theatre, and more recently directing for the stage as well, before venturing into film to create Departure. (Stay tuned for an interview with him shortly).

Alex Lawther, known from his performance as young Alan Turing in 2014’s The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch, is superb as Elliot, a teenager who is discovering poetry, art, and himself, in the middle of an unprecedented family crisis. Through no fault of his own, Elliot instigates the dissolution of his family as he’d known it, when he meets and befriends Clément (newcomer Phénix Brossard), a French boy who, like Elliot, is only visiting the little village in South France for family reasons.

Juliet Stevenson - Departure

As Elliot and Clément grow closer, Elliot’s mother Beatrice (a triumphant Juliet Stevenson) is undergoing a change of her own. Realising that her life so far has been dictated by others, and that yet another monumental change is about to happen without her having any say, Beatrice finally breaks her silence and confronts herself and her family, refusing to remain a spectator any longer. Clément becomes instrumental in this confrontation, driving a wedge between Beatrice and Elliot only to bring them closer together at the end.

Elliot plays into a number of clichés for his age, from his emulation of classic (and, not coincidentally, homosexual) writers such as Wilde and Proust, to his obsession with Clément, who eventually yields to Elliot’s feelings, but not in a way Elliot expects. Yet these clichés never feel tired or over the top, but an unavoidable part of coming of age, presented through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. Elliot may be unreasonably mean to his mother, self-involved and only seeming to care about one thing, but–the film seems to ask this question–weren’t we all at some point or another growing up?

Similarly, Beatrice’s world is being torn apart, and she deals with it through her own small ways: holding on to objects that represent her marriage, and refusing to acknowledge the purpose of their trip even as her husband, Peter (Finbar Lynch), arrives to take care of the sale of the house. By watching Elliot’s transformation Beatrice realises what made her marriage collapse, and how she needs to change in order to deal with that. In a moment of complete abandon, she falls apart around Clément, and it is that moment which becomes the catalyst for change for both her and Elliot.

Juliet Stevenson and Alex Lawther in Departure

It is fascinating to watch these characters undergo their personal journeys separately, only to meet at the end and finally understand one another, their lives having changed forever. Even more so when it’s done so beautifully and eloquently, with every moment serving its purpose. With fantastic music by Jools Scott, striking cinematography by Brian Fawcett, and meticulously fine editing from Dounia Sichov, Departure is the kind of film that will stay with you long after the credits have stopped rolling.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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