December 3, 2010 at 1:00 am

Review: 'Leaving' successfully explores the strains of midlife

Restless Kristin Scott Thomas’ Suzanne falls for an ex-con played by Sergi Lopez. (IFC Films)

The story is familiar, but the performance is stunning.

In the French film "Leaving" Kristin Scott Thomas blows through all the midlife crisis clichés with a raw portrayal that cuts to the bone. The odd thing is Tilda Swinton did the exact same thing earlier this year with "I Am Love."

But where "Love" stopped at the moment of decision; "Leaving" goes on to harsh consequences.

Thomas plays Suzanne, British by birth, living in France, married to Samuel (Yvan Attal) and mother to two teen children. Obviously restless, she has decided to return to her long abandoned career as a physical therapist even though Samuel is wealthy and well-connected.

But then Suzanne meets a construction worker and ex-con, Ivan (Sergi Lopez), and in a blink she falls in love with him. They become lovers. She tells Samuel, he blows up, they make up.

But Suzanne is obsessed, she can't let go of Ivan. She's like a teen in love. So she leaves Samuel, breaking free of life's constraints and throwing caution to the wind.

That's where "I Am Love" concludes. But of course there's more to the story, and director Catherine Corsini charges ahead as Suzanne and Ivan try to make a life for themselves, with Samuel interfering at every opportunity.

Midlife crisis diary-of-a-mad-housewife movies are common enough, but too often they end with the simple act of breaking free of ties that bind too tightly.

"Leaving" wisely goes further than that and the strains that play across Thomas' strong, plain-beautiful face work wonderfully against the girlish love rush that fuels the first part of the film.

This is one of those films that depends entirely on its star, and Thomas mixes sexuality, giddy flirtatiousness, stoic determination and agony in just the right amounts, without ever straining. It's a good movie. It's a great performance.

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