Directed by Andrew Steggall
Starring Juliet Stevenson, Alex Lawther, Phénix Brossard, Niamh Cusack, Patrice Juiff and Finbar Lynch
In UK Cinemas May 20th, 2016

by Bernie C Byrnes

Portrayals of angsty teenage life are a favourite of mine. Ian McEwan gets this point perfect in The Cement Garden but Departure is not a bad debut for writer / director Andrew Steggall.

In this film, an English mother and her teenage son spend a week packing up the contents of their remote holiday house in the South of France. Fifteen-year-old Elliot (Alex Lawther) struggles with his dawning sexuality and an increasing alienation from his mother, Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson). She in turn is confronted by the realisation that her marriage to his father, Philip (Finbar Lynch), has grown loveless and the life she knows is coming to an end. When an enigmatic local teenager, Clément (Phénix Brossard), enters their lives, both mother and son are compelled to confront their desires and, finally, each other.

Filmed on location in Languedoc-Roussillon, France, Brian Fawcett’s gorgeous photography creates a world of breathtaking beauty. Into this crash a middle class English family, maiming a deer on the way, who are trapped in a claustrophobic stiff straightjacketed existence. They barely speak, they don’t communicate, their self-absorption is astounding.

“In its quiet way, Departure sets out to explore what it means to long for love,” says Steggall
. “It is the particular longing of individuals who exist in proximity to each other and yet who find themselves isolated. It is the longing of people who fear the consequence of that longing.”

The most impressive feat that Departure pulls off (and if you’ve seen the film, please excuse the pun) is the painfully accurate recreation of teenage life. 15-year-old Elliot wanders around in a soldier’s jacket from a charity shop, writes poetry and lusts after a French boy. Said French boy has anger issues, a terminally ill mother and smokes like a chimney. But it’s not just the penning of the teenage boys that feels so authentic – the closeted homosexual father who has control issues, the long-suffering mother who struggles in silence to hang onto the last vestiges of her sanity – I know people like these, I’ve met them, I believed every sparse word that was uttered.

Elliot (and Steggall) are preoccupied with the idea of “knowing things subconsciously or intuitively before that knowledge has coalesced into a concrete certainty; the idea that within a kind of innocence exists a pre-emptive experience.” (Steggall). In the film this manifests itself through the predictive nature of the action. You always know what’s going to happen next, but the magic of this piece is in how it somehow manages to give you the feeling that you can predict what will happen next because you’ve already lived it. The film is slow, the sort of slowness that family holidays often have. It is both compelling and tedious and it makes you feel like you’re missing out on something, it creates yearning with no possibility of satisfaction. It is gentle, understated and really very sad. Even the hopeful ending feels like the beginning of a horrible new start.

Departure is an intimate story, charting the end of a summer, the end of a childhood and the end of an otherwise nuclear, middle class family. It’s a slow burn this one but definitely worth a watch, and the performances are outstanding.

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