Partir is a superior genre film – the kind of quality film that once inhabited British cinemas in the late 1940s. These days it is what passes as an ‘art film’ because it is in French and aimed at people over 40. Several people in the audience as I left the cinema were raving about Kristin Scott Thomas and her performance. But there’s more to it than that – even if she is very good indeed.
Plot outline (no spoilers)
Suzanne (Scott Thomas) is a French wife and mother who decides to return to work as a physiotherapist/reflexologist. Samuel, her husband (Yvan Attal) is not very gracious about paying for the work on her new workspace. But a new builder is hired and Suzanne falls for Ivan (Sergi Lopez) almost immediately. Samuel is not the kind of man to accept that his wife is in love with someone else, especially when she is so clearly smitten.
There are several intriguing aspects of this short (85 mins) film. Writer-director Catherine Corsini worked with two other women, co-writer Gaëlle Macé and cinematographer Agnès Godard (often associated with Claire Denis) to produce a film which gives Scott-Thomas plenty to get her teeth into, including some believable sex scenes – which as we know are often best directed by women. Given the short running time, I was impressed by how much was crammed into the script and how the genre repertoires were exploited in different ways. Primarily a realist love story/marital drama, there are also elements of melodrama and crime film. I kicked myself at the end for not recognising how much music was in the film. Asking myself “is this a melodrama?” I was aware that I just hadn’t noticed the music until the closing sequence. Yet when the credits came up, I saw that I’d passed over music by Georges Delerue taken from several Truffaut films including Vivement dimanche!(1983) and La femme d’à côté (1981). Now I think about it there is more music including songs sung by Sergi Lopez and the children. If there is any ‘excess’ in the film, it is probably in the sensual overload offered by the scenery – Ivan and Suzanne find a love nest in the hills of Languedoc-Roussillon (the main location is Nîmes) and enjoy a trip to the beaches of Catalunya. I think the overt displays of emotion also push the film towards melodrama, though always ‘realist melodrama’.
In some ways the question to ask is why is French Cinema able to offer these kinds of roles where British Cinema can’t? Why is it seemingly easier for top quality female directors to make films in France? It isn’t just Kristin Scott Thomas either. Brenda Blethyn has just appeared in London River and Tilda Swinton in the Italian film I Am Love. Not only that, but the last French film I saw celebrated another British export to French culture, Jane Birkin, as a character. There is something wrong with British Cinema and whatever it is won’t be helped by scrapping the Film Council.
One last thought – just as in I Loved You So Long, Kristin Scott Thomas is given a back story to justify her English accent. Is this now in her contract? Over to you Des.