Departure Review
3.0Overall Score

The South of France is typically a environment that fosters cinematic sexual awakenings, in the lazy heat of rolling fields; vineyards and deserted stone streets the perfect locale for romantic frissons and carnal encounters. That’s where writer-director Andrew Steggall sets Departure, his tender if overwrought coming-of-age drama that brings teenager Elliot (Alex Lawther) to these sun-dappled fields in the throes of his most formative years. His mother Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) has brought him along to their holiday home to pack up their belongings, as her husband Philip (Finbar Lynch) has put it on the market, the impending end of their marriage still an unspoken inevitability.

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Faced with his mother’s struggle to keep her composure, Elliot escapes into a strange burgeoning friendship with a local teenager, Clément (Phénix Brossard), who quickly becomes the focal point for his hormonal urges. Lawther astutely nails the dense mixture of arrogant precocity and tentative loneliness that will be familiar to many gay men remembering their teenage years, and the camera carefully shows us how Elliot eroticises Clément without becoming prurient. Steggall isn’t afraid to be bold in how he draws Beatrice into this tangle of testosterone, with her own growing regret over where life has taken her turning her own eye on Clément, both questioning her son’s behaviour and finding the same intrigue in this French stranger.

This boldness, however, might be Steggall’s downfall, or at least how it manifests itself in his formal approach. Stevenson and Lawther are wonderfully naturalistic performers, and the film maintains intrigue on their tactile performances alone. But Steggall doesn’t seem to trust them to communicate things to the audience without placing them in circumstances where their emotions are greatly overemphasised, such as placing Beatrice against a wall outside her son’s bedroom as he talks with his father. The crudity of this approach robs the actors of their power by valuing dramatic coincidence over the emotional subtlety that exists elsewhere. Non-diegetic songs suddenly begin to blare, lending the film a more operatic tone that, again, counters the actors’ natural approach.

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There’s a sweeter kind of grandeur in some of the beautiful imagery that Steggall and his cinematographer Brian Fawcett capture, though it’s often of a similarly overwrought feeling, using the actors as posable bodies, rather than imbuing their characters with any more depth. Where the film works best is in its exploration of the violence of repression and of fierce masculine imposition, with Beatrice and Elliot both endangered by their magnetic attraction to the men in their lives, and how this relates to sexuality. Elliot doesn’t counter any stereotypes, but his awakening isn’t accompanied by any repression or social stigmatisation, only his own cautiousness – and it’s this more intrinsically interior narrative approach that makes Steggall’s more florid choices all the more disappointing. Departure isn’t a particular departure from any kind of narrative or formal approach, and any seeming attempt at doing so makes for an awkward experience, outside of Stevenson and Lawther’s striking performances. Ultimately, it feels like a missed opportunity for a big step forward.


Departure is in cinemas from Friday 20 May. All images courtesy Peccadillo Pictures.

About The Author

Born in Birmingham and now living in London, David took a love of cinema through two degrees, capping them off with a dissertation on Julianne Moore. (He likes to think he helped her win the Oscar.) He currently works in commercial advertising at Hearst UK and watches as many films as he can in his spare time. You can frequently find him beholden to the visage of Jessica Chastain.

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