Film Review: DEPARTURE (DEPART) (UK/France 2015)

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departure.jpgDirector: Andrew Steggall
Writer: Andrew Steggall
Stars: Juliet Stevenson, Alex Lawther, Phénix Brossard

Review by Gilbert Seah

 The reason for the bilingual title is that the film is shot in South France and in both French and English, though English is the main order of the day.

DEPARTURE tells the simple story that in reality could have layers making it more complex. Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) is going through a marital crisis and she has brought her son – Elliot to help her pack up their idyllic summer home in the south of France. The two hardly do any packing but wander around the market in the village. Elliot is of the age of puberty. He sees a local lad swimming in the reservoir and smoking a cigarette and decides he has to get to know this boy better – nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean?

This lad is rural Clement (Phénix Brossard) all macho and a complete opposite in character and physique from Elliot. It is hard to believe that he has no clue the reason of Elliot’s fondness for him. What happens after makes the rest of the film. Whether the film succeeds depends on director Steggall whether he can invoke enough interest from the audience or maybe bring some twist to the plot.

Steggall does however, create a believable idyllic atmosphere of a rural French village – with English outsiders treated politely as income generating tourists for the French peasants. There is little hostility, at least, and none that needs to be built up or included into the story. Steggall tells his tale directly with few distractions.

Some films have little going on in appearance. DEPARTURE is one of those films. But to be fair to the writer and director of DEPARTURE, there could be more than meets the eye – if the audiences were to read between the lines (or see between the images). But there is quite a lot of inane dialogue – lines that make no sense being there. One sample occurs in the beginning of the film when Elliot asks his mother about a photograph he finds: “Who is this man in the boat with dad?” he asked. “I don’t know,” she replies. Another lengthy conversation takes place between the boy and a cafe owner about poetry, acting and plays – which has little impact on the plot, exempt to maybe establish (not very credibly) that the boy is a gifted writer.

Elliot, the boy is not the perfect model of a son. Elliot, the wannabe poet (his talent is questionable) is described as a cliche by Clement. Elliot acts like a spoiled little princess half the time, who wants his mother dead so that he can have a sex life. He is indifferent to his dad’s visit. He masturbates with a carrot from the fridge and dumps the soiled vegetable in the bin, which his mother discovers.

DEPARTURE is extremely slow moving. After 30 minutes of the film’s running time, nothing much happens – except the boy has seen another boy and the mother and son is still in the French village.

It is good to see Juliet Stevenson (famous after her role opposite the late Alan Rickman in TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY) on the screen after a long absence, though she does not get to do that much. Alex Lawther who plays Elliot has played big roles in the past, like the young Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME and the math film X + Y

DEPARTURE has gone on to win a few awards already at minor film festivals. But it is slow haul which will test the patience of many a viewer. The film is available DVD / VOD on March 7th in the U.S. and Canada via Wolfe Video.

Trailer: https://www.theguardian.com/film/video/2016/feb/02/departure-watch-an-exclusive-trailer-for-the-new-british-drama-video

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