P:O.V. No.5 - Three Recent Short Fiction Films, IMMEDIATE DEPARTURE

On the Ending of Immediate Departure

Richard Raskin

As Immediate Departure draws to a close, the man who had followed the woman in the photograph, finally finds himself in her presence. Having overcome a series of obstacles and nearly lost her, first in the subway and then at the Gare de l'Est, he is now seated across from her in a train compartment and hands her a paper handkerchief to dry her tears. She accepts it, then after a few moments, turns to look at him. This makes him visibly uncomfortable, and he soon leaves the compartment. In the final shot of the film, we see him standing in the corridor of the train, looking out of a window and silently weeping.

This, however, is not the way the screenplay ends, as can be seen in the following passage which picks up the action shortly after the point at which the unknown woman accepts the handkerchief:

On sent qu'il voudrait parler mais il est comme tétanisé. Elle est là, en face de lui en train de sécher ses larmes, et pourtant elle n'a jamais été aussi inaccessible. Le temps joue contre lui; plus il attend, plus la situation devient tendue. Il semble chercher désespérément une manière de l'aborder, mais les mots ne sortent pas. Son mutisme devient de plus en plus lourd à assumer. L'inconnue finit enfin par croiser son regard. Le visage de l'homme est livide. Il semble au bord de l'évanouissement. Il soutient son regard pendant un long moment puis se lève brusquement et sort du compartiment.

L'homme marche dans le couloir sans se retourner, et s'arrête près d'une fenêtre qu'il ouvre en grand, comme pour reprendre son souffle. Il penche sa tête vers l'extérieur et respire à plein poumon. Le visage en sueur, il semble sortir d'un long cauchemar. La vitesse lui plaque les cheveux en arrière. Le paysage défile à toute allure derrière lui.

Le visage fouété par le vent, l'homme semble progressivement revenir à la vie... Lorsque dans l'autre sens un train passe à toute vitesse avec son tohu-bohu de bruits stridents et métalliques, l'homme ferme les yeux.[1]

[...We feel that he would like to speak but it is as though he were paralyzed. She is there, sitting across from him, drying her tears, and yet she has never been as inaccessible as she is now. Time is working against him; the longer he waits, the more tense the situation becomes. He seems to be desperately searching for some way to speak to her, but the words just won't come out. His silence becomes a progressively heavier burden. Finally the eyes of the unknown woman meet his own. The man's face is livid. He seems to be on the verge of fainting. During a long moment, he meets her gaze, then suddenly stands up and leaves the compartment.

The man walks along the corridor without turning back and stops near a window which he opens wide, as if to recover his breath. He leans his head outward and breathes in deeply. With his face wet with perspiration, he seems to emerge from a long nightmare. The speed blows his hair back. The landscape rushes by behind him.

With his face whipped by the wind, the man seems to be progressively returning to life... When a train speeds by in the opposite direction with a jangle of screeching and metallic sounds, the man closes his eyes.]

As should now be obvious, the original (screenplay) and final (filmed) endings differ significantly and correspond to two different conceptions of the story's meaning.

Not surprisingly, the writer/director's own description of that meaning is most in harmony with the original ending. When asked about the conclusion of Immediate Departure, Thomas Briat said among other things:

The story is about someone who desperately wants something, and when he gets it, or when it is within reach, he realizes that he didn't really want it. He tried to catch up with the woman in the photograph, but when he finally does and he can speak with her, he doesn't want to anymore. That was really the meaning of the film.[2]

This fits in with the screenplay description of the man as "emerging from a nightmare" and "returning to life" after the spell he had been under is broken. In this perspective, what he experiences at the end is not anguish but rather a release from the illusion that he desperately desired the woman in the photo. It would therefore be illogical for the man to weep at this moment of liberation, and nothing in the screenplay indicates weeping at this point.

Another conception of the story's meaning was proposed by the actor who played the principal role, Bruno Lochet. When asked why the character he plays leaves the compartment, Bruno Lochet answered:

because when I am finally there, sitting across from her, my character understands that nothing is going to happen, he senses that they are too different, that their relationship is impossible.[3]

Bruno Lochet apparently objected to playing the final scene as it was written in the screenplay, arguing that the film should end with his character weeping. After making that point with unmistakable clarity, he added:

And I said to Thomas Briat: look, the guy spends a day like that, following her around with such a strong and intense emotion, and then at the end he just goes off like that? No way. Alright, we'll never know why she was crying her eyes out all day long - presumably her heart is broken (chagrin d'amour). But as far as he is concerned, I wanted it to be clear that he is a strong and positive character (not some sleazy stalker) and that he is also caught up in a kind of sadness that we discover at the end. And that was the moment when it had to be shown. Showing his suffering in relation to his desire, that was the most powerful thing that could be done. That was why I proposed it and it was filmed that way... I felt that to go to the extreme of following someone an entire day, to latch on to someone in that way, you have to be terribly unhappy and enormously lonely. I didn't want him to come across like a nutcase. I wanted him to be more appealing than that.

The two endings and corresponding conceptions of the story's meaning might be compared in the following schematic way:

original (screenplay) ending final (filmed) ending
the reason for which the man leaves the train compartment a realization that he didn't desire the woman after all a realization that nothing could ever happen between them
what the man experiences in the final shot a release from the spell he had been under despair, unspeakable

That Thomas Briat welcomed the change proposed by Bruno Lochet is very much to his credit and does not in any way diminish his role as the writer of the story - just as, for example, Wim Wenders's acceptance of changes proposed by Bruno Ganz and Peter Falk in their roles in Wings of Desire was a praiseworthy openness on his part, and resulted in an enrichment of the film.[4] Furthermore, the idea of weeping was at least indirectly inspired by Thomas Briat himself. In telling about his instructions to Bruno Lochet in connection with the final scene, Thomas Briat stated: "one thing that impressed Bruno: I was almost crying when I told him about the moment when his character gives up" (p. 70 above). After a series of takes in which nothing happened, Bruno Lochet finally gave Thomas Briat something he liked. The surprising way in which the unforeseen ending developed, is cited by Thomas Briat as one of the things that can only happen in film: "You can't write everything in a script. You have to be open to things and even use difficulties to the advantage of the film" (p. 71 above).

Each of the two endings for Immediate Departure has its logic. But the one Bruno Lochet proposed and which Thomas Briat accepted, gives the film a tremendous power in its final moments and helps to make Immediate Departure one of the most memorable short fiction films of the 1990's.

[1] I am indebted to Thomas Briat for providing a copy of the screenplay.

[2] The entire interview can be found in, An interview with Thomas Briat

[3] The entire interview will be found in, An interview with Bruno Lochet

[4] See, for example, the author's article "What is Peter Falk Doing in Wings of Desire," in Nordisk Film Forskning 1975-1995, ed. Peder Grøngaard (Aarhus: Nordisk Dokumentationscentral for Massekommunikationsforskning, 1995), pp. 115-120, as well as the author's interview with Bruno Ganz on Wings of Desire: "Wim invents the film while shooting," (Pré)publications 146 (December 1994), pp. 24-31.