Sunday, March 5, 2017

DVD/VODebut: Andrew Steggall's DEPARTURE depicts a jagged, difficult coming-of-age tale

The first full-length film by Andrew Steggall, a fellow who has made several award-winning/-nominated shorts, DEPARTURE is what you might call a gay art film -- and a pretty good one, at that. Elliptical and fragmentary, it tracks the emotional state of a British teenager who, with his very fragile mother, is closing up their country house in the south of France as mom and dad's marriage crumbles around him. The boy is simultaneously coming to terms with his homosexuality and in particular a very heavy crush on a local boy he's just met.

Mr. Steggall, shown at left, concentrates on emotions above all else. This can be tricky, but fortunately the filmmaker has found a number of ways to bring emotions to the fore without completely sapping-out his audience. Visually, his film is artful, beautiful and a bit mysterious from the outset. Who are these people, and what exactly is their situation? Soon enough we know, and that situation is definitely not good. Mom -- the fine Juliet Stevenson (below) -- is extremely fragile, which is no help to her troubled son, Elliot, played with intensity, intelligence and not-a-little entitlement by Alex Lawther (on poster, top, and three photos below).

Fragile, too, is the young French boy, Clément, who is going through his own difficult time, but masking this with the kind of macho aggressiveness that young males so often use to deflect feeling. As played by the excellent Phénix Brossard (above and below), Clément becomes in some ways the most appealing and interesting character on view.

Dad, when we finally meet him (he's played by Finbar Lynch) has his own problems -- not all that different from his son's -- yet neither parent appears to have the ability or desire to put their child's needs ahead of their own.

So Elliot is left to his own slapdash devices to piece together who he is, what he wants and how he might get this -- which involves everything from flirting and belittling to a new use for a large garden carrot.

What we basically have here is a group of extremely damaged people inflicting more of the same on each other. This sort of thing can be awfully trying for an audience, but fortunately, Steggall offsets it with some smart dialog and enough interesting visuals to keep us watching and relatively enthralled (a Saint Sebastian-type fantasy is among those visuals, as well as the glorious French town, below, in which the filming takes place).

Steggall also does not insist on tying up the loose ends. Love remains a good deal unrequited, with a single line of dialog, below, standing in for a wealth of buried feeling. Departure is worth seeing by the GLBT audience, of course, but also, I think, by those who appreciate an arthouse film.

From Wolfe Video and running 109 minutes, the film makes its DVD/VOD debut this coming Tuesday, March 7 -- for purchase and/or rental.

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