Catherine Corsini’s film “Homecoming” (“Le Retour”) is a film that takes us to Corsica, France, following the journey of a mother and her two daughters who return to their native island after a long absence. The film promises to deliver a moving portrait of family bonds and individual journeys against the stunning scenery of the island. However, it does not fully deliver on its promise, and viewers will be left feeling unsatisfied.
“Homecoming” focuses on Khedidja (Aïssatou Diallo Sagna) and her daughters, Jessica (Suzy Bemba) and Farah (Esther Gohourou), who return to Corsica for the first time in 15 years. Khedidja, originally from West Africa (although it’s not clear what country), brings her daughters to the island to work as a nanny for a French family vacationing there. It draws from Corsini’s own biography, as she also went back to the island as a teenager, like her characters.
“Le Retour” presents a look into the sisters’ journey of self-discovery and their experiences of coming of age. Jessica falls in love for the first time with Gaia, the daughter of the family Khedidja works for, while Farah gets close to a local boy she initially dislikes. The film captures the complexities of adolescence, the thrill and nervousness of new love, and the yearning many children feel to belong to a different family.
However, “Homecoming’s” pacing and lack of development of certain plot elements could leave viewers unsatisfied.
The film’s best asset is the acting of the two young leads, Bemba and Gohourou, who play Jessica and Farah with charm and humor. They capture the essence of teenagehood and self-discovery with remarkable realism.
The film’s plot, co-written by Corsini and Naïla Guiguet, switches between the perspectives of the characters, who each have their own arc while also dealing with the family’s dark past. The death of the girls’ father haunts the narrative and explains much of Khedidja’s secretive behavior. It also deals with the issue of race and cultural identity, as the family’s black skin makes them stand out among the Corsican locals. The film does not make race much of a theme but rather incorporates it (as well as their African-ness) into the narrative through subtle cues and situations that reveal the characters’ experiences as racial minorities.
“Homecoming’s” weakness is its inability to develop and resolve its plot points and character arcs. Corsini introduces potential conflicts such as Jessica’s encounter with her long-lost grandmother and Khedidja’s affair with an old friend, but these are left unresolved. These narrative choices undermine the film’s realism and will create a sense of frustration and disappointment in viewers who expect more.
Corsini’s direction shows her ability to elicit strong performances and create beautiful visual storytelling but leaves room for improvement in terms of plot development and resolution.
While she chose to be subtle and light in her approach for valid reasons, Corsini also sacrificed some depth and detail in her storytelling. While she touched on themes of family, identity, and personal growth with sensitivity and realism, she also left some potential conflicts and resolutions unexplored or unresolved. While she made a film that was both personal and universal, that spoke to her own history and to contemporary issues of race and identity, she also made a film that may seem like a lighter, less thorough exploration of similar themes compared to other films in its genre.
In the audience chatter that followed the screening, I heard someone refer to it as “Kechiche-lite,” a reference to the acclaimed Tunisian-French director Abdellatif Kechiche known for his in-depth and comprehensive portrayal of family and social issues. This comparison suggests a certain lack in Corsini’s plot. While “Le Retour” deals with themes similar to Kechiche’s work – such as teenage angst, family complexity, and cross-cultural challenges – it does not explore these themes with the same level of detail or nuance as Kechiche’s films.
Moreover, the film faced controversy over a sex scene involving a minor, leading to the loss of some of its subsidies by the French National Centre of Cinema (CNC). Corsini responded by cutting the scene from the film, which at least demonstrated some willingness to address criticism, even at the cost of losing financial support. If there are any concerns about what impact, if any, this will have on the film post-Cannes, it’s certainly not palpable.
“Homecoming” (“Le Retour”) is a film that has a promising premise and a talented cast but fails to deliver on its potential due to underdeveloped plot points and character arcs. While it portrays family bonds and individual journeys and shows a nuanced understanding of race and cultural identity, the film ultimately never feels fully earned. The strong performances of the lead actors hold it together. They convey the characters’ struggles and joys with authenticity and emotion, even when the plot falls short.
Catherine Corsini’s “Homecoming” (“Le Retour”) is in the main competition at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.
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