‘Departure’ is the feature length directorial debut of British film maker Andrew Steggall. It stars Juliet Stevenson as Beatrice, who has returned to France to pack up the holiday house and in effect pack up her failed marriage. In tow is her teenage son, Elliot, played by Alex Lawther, who is going through his own inner turmoil.
It rains a lot in ‘Departure’, and in fact the use of water in the film is a strong metaphor for what the characters are experiencing. Both Elliot and Beatrice retreat to the bath to think; Elliot feels he is drowning; the river and the reservoir dominate the landscape; the use of glasses and bottles reflecting the liquid inside; the stucco render on the walls of the farmhouse echoing the waves of the ocean. Perhaps the most poignant reference is the interchange between Elliot and former theatre owner, François. Speaking in the local cafe, Elliot describes what desire means to him, as “the way that water runs through your fingers” – to feel desire is to feel what it is to be human.
The object of Elliot’s desire is local boy, Clément (Phénix Brossard), whom he first sees preparing to go swimming in the reservoir, an activity which is strictly forbidden. This in itself is a precursor to what is yet to pass, as Elliot and Clément struggle with and against each other in a love that is not so much forbidden as unbidden, at least on the part of Clément. The French boy has run away from his family in Paris, after the hospitalisation of his mother, suffering from cancer. Initially lung cancer, it had eaten her up entirely, until even her personality was changed. Clément professes to Elliot that he likes him: Elliot accepts this, although he loves deeply in return.
His mother’s illness causes Clément to seek a maternal figure in that of Beatrice, who misinterprets his attention as something more meaningful. Nonetheless, she is struck by the realisation that she’s not actually too old, not unattractive, and still “has it”. A passionate kiss between the pair (as well as a later kiss between Clément and Elliot) illustrates yet another constant theme throughout the film: that of the need for human contact, any contact. Love and be loved, in whatever form it comes. The arrival of Elliot’s father, Philip, to sign some final paperwork for the house, serves as the catalyst for some revelations: we discover the true state of his marriage to Beatrice, some long-hidden skeletons were released from the closet, and Elliot recalls an horrific accident that happened to his mother when he was a young boy.
On the surface, ‘Departure’ is a simple LGBT coming of age film. Look deeper however and you discover it’s a far more complex story of love and relationships, and a desire for human contact. The ensemble cast puts in a stunning performance, no matter how large or small their role: real life husband and wife team Finbar Lynch and Niamh Cusack are superb as Beatrice’s ex-husband Philip, and Sally, their next door neighbour, respectively. Although seen only too briefly, the interplay between Niamh Cusack and Juliet Stevenson shows how fine a pair of actresses they are. Mention must also be made of Patrice Juiff, who is entrancing as François, and whose back story is another movie that’s desperate to be made.
Relative newcomers, Alex Lawther (‘The Imitation Game’) and Phénix Brossard, are phenomenal in their shared scenes, and it’s for good reason Lawther won the London Film Critics’ Circle Award for “Young British Performer of the Year” in 2014, and nominated for Best British Newcomer, at the BFI London Film Festival. Phénix Brossard is a young French actor discovered on the street and revealed by his lead role in the French feature La Lisière.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to catch up with director and writer, Andrew Steggall, and asked him about ‘Departure’.