By Hans Pedersen, April 2017 Issue.
From the imagination of writer and director Andrew Steggall comes the thought-provoking and cathartic feature that’s centered around the simmering sexual tension between two teenage guys.
Departure focuses on 15-year-old Elliot (Alex Lawther from The Imitation Game) as he befriends a mysterious young man, Clément (Phénix Brossard) and begins to express his sexual desire.
Starring Juliet Stevenson (Bend It Like Beckham) as Beatrice, a woman who’s shutting down her British family’s country home while consumed with her crumbling marriage.
Steggall, an openly gay filmmaker who directed several short films before embarking on this feature film debut, recently spoke with Echo Magazine in a phone interview.
Echo: Could you tell us a little bit about the origin of the project?
Steggall: I had some friends who have a little holiday house in France … And it was probably a response to the forest, the reservoir and the feeling that it provoked. Sort of a mythical atmosphere, fairly reminiscent of what my schoolboy knowledge of what Freud was: the forest of the unconscious, and the water of sexuality and all of that. It felt like a place to explore a memory from what I had in my adolescence. There was a feeling my internal life, which as an adolescent I imagined was complicated and interesting, whereas my parents seemed like a blank canvas. I had an intuition, or moment of understanding, that that wasn’t the case. I shared something, a desire to be recognized, a desire to connect … It was sort of a feeling of growing up in a way. It wasn’t so much I was “coming out” as recognizing being an adult was complicated, and contradictory, and that you don’t grow out of a complex life in the way only I thought I was capable of.
Echo: How did you prepare the actor Alex Lawther for the role?
Steggall: He’s incredibly intuitive and an instinctive actor. He has great emotional intelligence … I think he has empathy for Elliot, the character whose lines he read in the screenplay, whose story he really identified with. Alex is a very thoughtful, poetic individual. He’s like Elliot in that way. We also had to delay shooting for a whole year, so Alex and I got a year to know each other better, read some of the same stories, watch some of the same films and evolve Elliot in a direction that means, in the end, he is a curious amalgam of Alex and me and the character in the screenplay… He worked very hard. The notebook in the film that Elliot’s writing in is actually the notebook Alex carried with him for a year. [He was] working on notes about Elliot, and writing recollections of his adolescence, and poetry Elliot might write. And he decorated the wall in the room as he imagined he might decorate it as a teenager …
Echo: Could you talk a little bit about that sexual tension between Elliot and Clément? It’s delicately done.
Steggall: I think Clément stumbled into the situation, into the lives of these people, in a way, provoking a change in them. Would everything have happened without his presence? I don’t think so. But, like in life, sometimes things coincide. And Elliot’s readiness, and need for an object of his desire, and Beatrice’s realization about the nature of her marriage – the lie it was and the lack of sexual fulfillment for her – coincides with the presence of this virile, youthful, counterpointing Clément … I asked Phénix, the actor who played Clément, several months after we finished the film, “What do you think Clément felt about Elliot? And he said he thought Clément fell in love with Elliot in a way. And we had not really discussed that during shooting, but I was pleased to hear he thought that was possible, that it could happen in Clément’s life … Clément, who’s basically straight, in the context of that week and that place, accessed and connected with something about this strange, slightly narcissistic and self-indulgent English boy …
Echo: Can you talk a little bit about the title Departure? Really there are a lot of different meanings, departure from childhood, from the country home from Beatrice’s marriage.
Steggall: It’s funny, you come up with a title very early and, inevitably, people who came onboard the film say, “shouldn’t it be called this” or “shouldn’t it be called The Reservoir?” There was a time when it was going to be called Black Mountain because that was the name of the area where the film was shot. Departure felt, to me, to be relevant for all of the reasons you said actually: it’s the end of a marriage, it’s the end of a year, the end of the life of this house, the end of childhood for Elliot.
Echo: How do you identify?
Steggall: I’m a gay male and that’s one of the central reasons for making this film.
Echo: Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
Steggall: That’s funny, I hadn’t really thought of that … I like it when Beatrice says “some people have sex, we bought houses, I was better at that.” That always makes me laugh … there’s some interactions that I really like: when Elliot grabs the metal. I love that feeling of wanting to cause yourself pain and to feel something. That’s like the nymph who’s reaching out wanting to feel the closest way he can get to experience what love and sex might be like, which is to grab the most painful thing you can find, and also the sense of wanting to punish yourself. And that kind of image and gesture seems really interesting …
Departure became available, OnDemand and DVD, March 7.