When an unhappy housewife tries “Leaving” her husband for another man, she runs into even unhappier times in helmer Catherine Corsini’s brooding tale of explosive amour fou. Tightly wound and crafted, with robust performances by Kristin Scott Thomas and recurrent Spanish Don Juan Sergi Lopez, the pic offers a rough, no-frills take on a story as old as France itself. Capitalizing on Agnes Godard’s handheld imagery and a soundtrack filled with music from Francois Truffaut’s films, Corsini (“La Repetition”) turns a rather classic pitch into something more. After a decent local opening, “Leaving” could leave an impression on arthouse auds.
Writer-director Corsini’s previous films, from her 1998 dark comedy “The New Eve” to 2007’s publishing thriller “Ambitious,” have often featured heroines who exist far outside the usual mold assigned to them by French cinema. The same could be said for “Leaving,” whose fortysomething protag, Suzanne (Scott Thomas), is so dead set on finding happiness that she’s willing to carry her extramarital affair to an extremely dangerous level.
From the outset, it’s obvious there’s little spice left in Suzanne’s highly bourgeois marriage to physician Samuel (Yvan Attal, conniving and hateful), so it’s no surprise when she literally jumps at the chance to hook up with Ivan (Lopez), an immigrant ex-con who’s been hired to fix up her future chiropractor’s office. When she finally decides — despite her two children (Alexandre Vidal, Daisy Broom) and various creature comforts — to leave Samuel for good, hubby launches a plan of revenge and blackmail.
Although we’ve seen this all before, Corsini keeps things tense and captivating through the raw energy of the action and performances, which are captured with a docu-style effervescence by d.p. Agnes Godard (“Beau Travail,” “The Dreamlife of Angels”). And although a cliffhanger prologue lets us know where things are headed, it remains fascinating to see how Suzanne’s combination of naivete, stubbornness and willpower pushes things toward the anticipated conclusion.
The role of Suzanne offers a clear departure from Scott Thomas’ recent depiction of the murderess Eve in “I’ve Loved You So Long,” and she plays Suzanne as a carefree but slightly clueless spirit who seems to expect everyone, including her family, to revel in her newfound happiness. Lopez (“A Pornographic Affair,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”) has once again been cast as the gruff working-class lover, a choice he validates during several realistic sex scenes that reveal the purely physical nature of the romance.
Stirring excerpts from French New Wave scores by Georges Delerue and Antoine Duhamel place the pair in the tradition of doomed couples from Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim,” “The Soft Skin” and “Shoot the Piano Player.”