A delicate debut of sexual exploration and lifelong frustration, Andrew Steggall’s poetic Departure comes undone with its exquisite manners.
Gone With The Windby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Much like Tom Geens’ Couple In A Hole, Andrew Steggall’s Départ/Departure joins a burgeoning new genre of first-time filmmakers making their debuts on French soil. And while both rarely stray from their central location, there’s an elegant beauty to Steggall’s film, as we uncover the family home through a stylish collection of glass bottles, or make a sortie into the nearest town, using its happily labyrinthine streets to great effect. In essence, it’s a story of separation and self-discovery, as mother and son slowly disentangle themselves from one another, while reaching out towards new possibilities of love and independence. And while it might not be perfect, Departure makes for a gently gripping debut indeed.
Driving to their holiday home in France, mother and son Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) and Elliot (Alex Lawther) run over a deer. And it’s enough to put their already strange family holiday on edge. As they’ve come to clear the house ahead of selling it, gradually packing away boxes, selling furniture and drinking the wine cellar empty. They’re even helped by Clément (Phénix Brossard), a young man back from Paris visiting his relatives, a free spirit that enchants Elliot, swimming in the reservoir, repairing his scooter and helping mother and son dismantle heavy wooden beds. It’s not long though before Beatrice falls under his spell. And even though her mistimed kiss is little more than a cold comfort of the kindness of strangers, sensing her long-broken marriage finally falling apart, it’s enough to place an unhealthy wedge of mistrust between mother and son – as they attempt to find their new places in their rapidly changing lives.
From the longing looks Eliott sends in Clément’s direction to Beatrice’s refusal to let her teenage son in while she’s in the bath, Departure leaves a lot deliciously unsaid. In one scene, we see Beatrice drive a selection of their now superfluous possessions to the dump only to burst into tears and drive home again – the end of her marriage still only an inkling. While in another, Eliott refuses to talk about his sexuality, his seemingly confident airs with Clément suddenly deflated. Like a new jacket he’s been trying on for size. Both characters fulfil their roles as mother and son, but they’re also resolutely individual, with Eliott exploring both his creativity and his sexuality, and Beatrice exploring a new, liberating ability to destroy.
There’s a lot to like about Andrew Steggall’s Departure, including brilliant performances from both Alex Lawther (who you might remember from The Imitation Game) and Juliet Stevenson, and stunning cinematography from Brian Fawcett. And while Steggall’s script draws out some interesting ideas, such as a prescience for an event happening before it does, as well as an intriguing family dynamic which sees Beatrice’s storyline unexpectedly eclipse Elliot’s, there are also self-indulgences, which, much like Elliot pressing a hoover to his face, exaggerates the drama with an affected mannerism, seeing, for example, a deliciously slow tracking shot needlessly accompanied by falling leaves. The dialogue and mise-en-scène are occasionally too on the nose, with cinema screens mocked up from plastic sheeting. But with such a density of themes and motifs, from bodies of water to dead deers, Departure is a surging, poetic mass of ideas.
Departure is released on 20th May 2016 in the UK