‘Do you think you can know something before you know it? It’s like the air changes. Or something inside of you?’
The gentle tones of Alex Lawther’s Elliot, a young man revelling in the inquisition of his formative years. Regardless of age, when we are confronted with crisis both personal and familial, we are often desperately seeking worth in something that we perceive to be cathartic. Therapeutic. An escape from the fractured and fragile ‘normality’, enabling us to make sense of the emotional extremities that we experience through life.
Yet we never truly, at least in the beginning. Invest in the idea of our chosen comforts, bending and broadening our scope and viewpoint in such remarkable and unexpected ways, in that it gives us the strength to confront what we truly desire. Through the delicate and graceful observations of director Andrew Steggall, his feature-length debut ‘Departure’ is a stunning example of the underlying power of the cinematic medium, in what it means for us to be human.
We find Elliot in the idyllic surroundings of the South of France, as his closeted self juxtaposes with the crumbling psyche of his mother Beatrice played by Juliet Stevenson, whom is dealing with the ramifications of her failed marriage in the confines of an increasingly bare holiday home. He so eloquent with his playful prose as he slowly embraces the ‘cliche’ of being a poet. She so distant, lingering long into the distance, reluctant to express the true feelings that consume her.
Feeling obliged to keep his distance from Beatrice’s marital troubles, away from view Elliot’s eyes are soon transfixed by the sight of the older bare-chested frame of Phenix Brossard’s Clement, depicted here as innocent rather than voyeuristic. As the enigmatic Clement dives headlong into the reservoir, Lawther’s protagonist is merely looking at an ideal opportunity to take a leap of his own in introducing himself properly to the Frenchman. Initially enriching each other’s troubled lives, neither can anticipate both the illuminating and devastating impact their raw thoughts and actions have on themselves and those around them…
Occasionally a delicate stillness. Always beautifully observed. The rigid and rapturous beauty of Steggall’s direction proves a wonderful aid in accentuating the flawed and fierce intentions of its characters. An almost theatrical meet-cute between Elliot and Clement behind a drape as the latter grows frustrated at mending his bike, perhaps a metaphor for how their lives have stalled and their emotionally stunted states. A sublime slow-motion mid-shot of Elliot centre frame, as the autumn leaves descend upon the floor of his bedroom, arguably mourning both the loss of his own innocence and his parent’s marriage, as the twilight years of mother Beatrice’s life have been plunged into uncertainty. The film possesses a piercing sense of longing and lust for better, that is superbly stifling, mirroring the broken familial unit.
In that Departure offers no easy sugarcoated answers in its resolution, is significantly down to the remarkable, rich work of its actors. Debutant Phenix Broassard as Clement is certainly the most ambiguous of the on-screen trio, merely teasing the audience of the pain that lurks deep inside him, as he slowly unravels in fantastically ferocious fashion. Whereas Alex Lawther’s Elliot is so limited and self-involved in his thoughts in the early infancy of the film’s narrative, he’s a far cry from the romantics we’re used to rooting for. Yet his own coming-of-age journey remains utterly compelling and painstaking in its nuance. Whilst Juliet Stevenson’s maternal figure is simply outstanding in her subtlety, as she desperately seeks back control of her own future, after years of feeling like she was drowning by the neat and tidy ‘burials’ of the things that have plagued her past.
‘It’s not I like you. It’s I love you’. The same sentiment is certainly earned by Departure. Gorgeously shot. Tremendously performed. An exquisite piece of work.
Departure is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!