Kristin Scott Thomas's New Movie About Hormones

Dying by degrees at the New York Film Festival

Kristin Scott Thomas has entered her grand-diva mode, playing tortured women of a certain age with unquenchable ardor and really high cheekbones.

In Catherine Corsini's Leaving (French title: Partir), she dumps her oppressive

doctor husband and their kids for some raw sex with an ex-con, ending up so penniless she has to sell a watch at a gas station! It's Lady Chatterley, Madame Bovary, Miss Julie, Anna Karenina, and Ibsen's Nora crossed with I Am Love, and Scott Thomas throws herself into the film's shocking indignities with fiery, self-igniting passion.

Diva days: Kristin Scott Thomas
Diva days: Kristin Scott Thomas

"It's a film about hormones," she told the audience after a special screening at the Crosby Street Hotel last week. "She's very much in lust. She sees this escape route and goes for it."

The actress bravely admitted that she herself was married to a doctor for some time. "A coincidence?" asked onstage interviewer Jeffrey Lyons. "It's a sort of Catherine Corsini torturous coincidence," she replied, wryly. But she happens to adore that director, even though after one take, Corsini yelled, "Don't put your hand to your head. It's overacting!"

The Oscar nominee even found nice things to say about the Prince vehicle Under the Cherry Moon, which was simultaneously her film debut and the arguable death of '80s culture. After begging the crowd, "Don't watch it, please! Everyone in the room, promise me!" Scott Thomas added, "I'm not embarrassed about the film—I'm kind of proud of it, actually—but my performance is really awful. Someone said I was a better cure for insomnia than a glass of milk." (Please! That person needs to be put to sleep with a carton of Yoo-Hoo.)

Our grand star comes from a long line of abuse, apparently. Way back at school, a teacher famously told her she shouldn't even consider pursuing acting. "But I didn't look right, and I was hideously shy," she admitted. "Going to France and having to reinvent myself was the best thing."

After playing "chain-smoking snobs" for years en route to this grande dame phase, Scott Thomas was awarded the OBE in 2003. And what ridiculous thing did Queenie say during the presentation? "She never says anything ridiculous! She's the queen!" the actress declared, twinkling. "I was so impressed and afraid she was going to cut my head off," she added, getting serious, "that I wasn't even listening."

As for that misguided teacher? "She's dead!"

Every Day a Little Death

There aren't many films about hormones in the New York Film Festival; most of the fare is about either passing on to the afterlife or foreign political turmoil. In the former category, we have Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, about connecting "with loved ones who have passed on"; a Thai film about "a dying man visited by the ghosts of his wife and son"; a Russian flick about "a tough guy on a journey to dispose of the remains of his wife"; and a "ghost story in which a dead newlywed comes to life." ("She's dead!" you can hear Kristin Scott Thomas bellow about all four of these works.)

The latter trend—faraway historical unrest—brings you a film about a real-life revolutionary terrorist and another in which 10 directors commemorate the Mexican revolution. But the winner has to be Post Mortem, which manages to combine both motifs: It's about "an autopsy clerk in the last days of Allende's Chile"!

The opening-night film took on corporate terrorism: The Social Network, about the guy who created a networking service for friends while viciously backstabbing his own. The best scene has two of his victims—hot male twins—meeting with the pigheaded Harvard president about having been screwed over and being told they're only imagining how important Facebook is going to be. Oh, really? Two days before the premiere, FB crashed for a few minutes and people were practically throwing their babies out of windows.

The afterlife, I mean after-party, was perfectly enough at the Harvard Club—Justin Timberlake was so sweet and agreeable, really wanting his film career to not go bye, bye, bye—and unlike last year, there was so much food that it was clear the recession was over and schnorrer terrorism wasn't required.

Danson in the Dark

Bored to Death has the sound of something that could have easily been in the festival if it weren't a TV show. The Jonathan Ames–created HBO series about the oddball life of a writer-turned-detective named Jonathan Ames had a gala screening event for its second season, the episodes stolen by a surprisingly dry Ted Danson. (Sorry, I never watched Cheers. I'm gay.) The scene in which Danson gets a penile problem examined by a medical professional played by frisky-fingered Jessica Hecht is so strong that you again think of Kristin Scott Thomas and her reasonable urge to run from doctors whenever possible.

The real Ames—who appears naked in one episode—told the crowd, "Since I'm a little bit strange, I'll probably never get married. So this premiere is like a wedding for me. It gives my parents such nachas." That's Yiddish for "joy," though to my family, "joy" is usually spelled n-a-c-h-o-s.

Less ebulliently: After the screening, Danson was overhead asking Bored to Death co-star Jenny Slate, "Are you back to work?" meaning on Saturday Night Live. Slate mumbled something noncommittal, probably horrified that he didn't know she got axed!

Another show about schlemiels in over their heads, IFC's The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, had a premiere event two nights later, creator David Cross playing a doof who tries to sell energy drinks in the U.K. while sucking all the energy out of the continent. After the screening, an audience member asked Cross, "Your character's a liar, he kills animals, and he pees himself once a day. How do you sell that to a network?" Replied the comic, "There are four episodes out of the six where he doesn't piss himself!" "Two," chimed in co-writer Shaun Pye. He and Cross intently engaged in some cross-whispering, after which Pye said, "I stand corrected. But in one episode, he shits himself." "But that isn't out of nervousness or exhaustion, it's something else," explained Cross, defiantly. Got that distinction?

The Brits are very stiff-upper-lip and such in Broadway's retread of Brief Encounter, in which a married woman enjoys some guilty slap-and-tickle with a doctor as the wacky supporting players threaten to make the audience wet itself. I liked this way more than the similar film-to-stage deconstruction of The 39 Steps. That one's gags seemed a tad too desperate and the cast was so-so (it's overacting!), whereas this romp goes for witty jokes, clever stagecraft, and charmingly interwoven Noël Coward songs. Whether that all makes sense layered onto a tragic love story that's pretty much done straight is a whole other story.

And, finally, I had a brief encounter with modeling at the Christopher Lee Sauve show of T-shirts featuring embellished icons like Lindsay, Jesus, and Anna Wintour. But being the new Naomi wasn't all rock-hard glamour. While I was primping backstage, another model—gogo boy Matthew Camp—sidled up and informed me that he finds practically everything sexy except scat. He then grew strangely silent, so I came up with the best comeback ever: "Scat got your tongue?"

I'll remember it next time I have raw sex with an ex-con.

musto@villagevoice.com

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