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Originally published Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 3:05 PM

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Movie review

'Leaving': Kristin Scott Thomas sizzles in French marital drama

"Leaving," a new French film starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Sergi Lopez and Yvan Attal, tells the painful but passionate story of a love triangle, with a stunning performance by Scott Thomas.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Leaving,' with Kristin Scott Thomas, Sergi Lopez, Yvan Attal, Bernard Blancan. Directed by Catherine Corsini, from a screenplay by Corsini and Gaëlle Macé. 85 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains nudity, sexuality and brief violence). In French with English subtitles. Seven Gables.

MOVIE REVIEW 3 stars

"I didn't ask for it. It hit me," says Suzanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), looking utterly lost.

She's speaking of love — of the sudden, almost violent rush of passion that caused her to leave her well-off physician husband (Yvan Attal) for a working-class builder, Ivan (Sergi Lopez). "Leaving" is about that thunderbolt that irreparably changes three lives (not to mention Suzanne's children, also collateral damage); but it's also about the great Scott Thomas, who's in virtually every scene of the movie and whose elegantly sculpted face changes before our eyes, from crisp, chic efficiency to desperate yearning, with all other senses emptied out.

Catherine Corsini's film, set in the south of France (you can almost hear the humidity) and beautifully filmed by Agnès Godard, briskly if at times melodramatically follows Suzanne's fall from grace. Early on, we're quickly acquainted with Suzanne and husband Samuel's conventional, comfortable marriage, with two teenagers and a pleasant, modern home. But it's clear that Suzanne is bored — she's going back to work as a physical therapist, for reasons she can't really explain — and she soon strikes up a mild friendship with the builder hired to create her home office.

After Ivan is injured in an accident for which Suzanne feels responsible, she steps more closely into his life. The affair quickly follows, with reckless abandon, as if she's thrown off a cloak of respectability that she doesn't want any more.

When nervously tells Samuel she has fallen in love (rather more early in the movie than we expect), it's telling how he initially has to be reminded who Ivan is. Though this man's in Samuel's employ, he's never paid any attention to him. "I can't lie," Suzanne explains, and as Scott Thomas plays her, she can't — it's as if love has electrified her. And it's painful to watch how Samuel's anger quickly reduces Suzanne to desperate measures: frantically selling possessions for cash, begging her children to support her in the divorce, scheming to take what should be hers.

This can't possibly end happily, and a shot that rings out in the opening scene (most of the film is in flashback) hangs over us as a reminder; by the film's final act, Scott Thomas' Suzanne is wild-eyed and nearly feral, reduced to nothing but want. But while "Leaving" is a tragedy, it's also a celebration: of the way a fine actor can tell us a story, barely needing words.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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