Much like Tilda Swinton’s lacquered honey in I Am Love, Kristin Scott Thomas’ trophy wife Suzanne in the French drama Leaving disses her husband for hot extramarital bonking in the great outdoors. The difference: Suzanne has gone Lady Chatterley, diddling not some young stud but the doughy help. Upon discovering his spouse prefers the company of fix-it man Ivan (Sergi López), hissable rich prick Samuel (Yvan Attal) is more appalled by her giant class leap than by the act itself, and driven to madness by the thought that this “clod” with a light criminal past could get his wife off.
Despite the odd bareback romp, Catherine Corsini’s succinct, remote drama is the rare affair saga to focus on the very real fallout when passion runs up against practicality. For reasons never made entirely clear, Suzanne is so crazy in love with her burly paramour that she’s willing to ditch her life of luxury for him, and she does. But her ex takes his revenge, and as he uses his connections to deny Ivan contracts, Suzanne is stripped down to near-feral. It doesn’t take long for this pampered housewife with the architecturally cold house to steal her daughter’s perfume and try to pawn jewelry at gas stations—and even then the film isn’t done humiliating her. Corsini’s plot twists eventually strain credulity, and López, usually a fiery presence (in Dirty Pretty Things and Pan’s Labyrinth especially), is inexplicably passive and bland—perhaps because he knows this is his co-star’s show.
Thomas, once again kicking ass in her second language, singlehandedly atones for any structural clumsiness. Suzanne’s adoration for her man may make little sense on paper, but Thomas commits to it fully and fills in the blanks in Corsini’s script. As she plays it, Suzanne is on an obsessive self-destructive streak, rebelling against a cold husband and lifestyle. By the end she’s become unwatchably pathetic and crazy, and that electricity is exactly what a rickety film like Leaving needs.