There is the good sister, with A grades, university prospects and a sense of decorum in company. And then there is the younger sister who can’t see a volume button without turning up the music, who is quick to complain or pick an argument, who spots someone else’s drug stash and thinks she could steal it and maybe make some pocket money selling deals on the beach, because what – what – could possibly go wrong with that plan?
And yet Farah (Esther Gohourou) can always make Jessica (Suzy Bemba) laugh. She can even persuade her to climb over a wall to swim in someone else’s pool because, in the end, where’s the harm? They are nothing alike, but they fit together like Legos.
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Catherine Corsini’s Cannes competition entry Homecoming (Le Retour) borrows some key elements from the director’s own life. Like the girls in the film, her father was Corsican and died when she was very small; like them, she returned when she was 15, dreaming of making films as she knew her father had wanted to do. Unlike Corsini’s mother, however, Khedidja (Aissatou Diallo Sagna: a warm, vivid maternal goddess) comes originally from West Africa.
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When Khedidja is hired as a child-minder by a French family on holiday in the village where she lived after her marriage, she decides to take her daughters with her; the suggestion is that while she is clearly ambivalent about all things Corsican, they should be able to experience something of their father’s heritage. She never felt she fitted in there, she says in one of the confessional speeches that start to tumble through the mix at the end of the film. It seems a thin explanation for her decision to leave the man she seemingly loved in abundance and head into the never-never of mainland France with two small children, but it will have to do.
The three women’s gleaming black skin certainly doesn’t fit in with the uniformly insipid holiday tans surrounding them, but, having chosen to cast them, Corsini makes surprisingly little out of the fact of their difference. Rather, her focus is on the emotional tumult of sexual awakening, which tests the sisters’ mutual loyalty and their established roles within their little family.
Jessica is drawn to Gaia (Lomane De Dietrich), the wayward older half-sister to Khedidja’s obstreperous little charges. Gaia is aimless, but she finds both passion and a project in Jessica who, unlike Gaia, has no rich parents to finance her future. Left alone by her big sister, Farah hangs out on to the beach and makes a combative frenemy in the local lad who runs the jet-ski concession.
Corsini and her co-writer Naïla Guiguet gently tease out the foibles of different versions of adolescence and new love: hesitation, nervousness, bursts of exuberance that spring from nowhere and subside just as quickly, and that dreadful sense that at the age of 15, life is passing you by. There is also a courageous attempt to capture the common but almost unmentionable yearning felt by many children to be in a different family altogether.
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Gaia’s family seems to Jessica to understand her in a way her own mother and sister don’t and can’t. They argue about things that matter. They know university lecturers as friends. How soon can she escape to the intellectually stimulating life she should be having? Of course, it is obvious to us that the edifice that is Gaia’s family is riddled with structural weaknesses, not the least being their defiantly rude, entitled wastrel of a daughter.
This accuracy is undermined, however, by a longwindedness – the same points are reiterated in one truthfully rendered scene after another – together with a paradoxical tendency to dangle details that are never developed.
Jessica discovers by chance that she has a grandmother whose rift with her mother is never convincing. Khedidja kindles a new romance with an old friend – a delicately drawn fumble through barely remembered moves by two people who had long since given up on such things, which makes for a lovely set-piece – but it drifts into the next scene and is then left behind.
There is a brisker, tougher and more succinct story buried just out of sight, somewhere on the beach where the jet-skis blast through the waves. Not that there isn’t plenty here to enjoy, but too much time where we feel like Farah, running sand through her fingers and wondering if there’s anything to do in this village.
Title: Homecoming (Le Retour)
Director: Catherine Corsini
Screenwriters: Catherine Corsini, Naïla Guiguet
Cast: Esther Gohourou, Suzy Bemba, Aissatou Diallo Sagna, Lomane De Dietrich
Running time: 1 hr 50 min
Sales agent: Playtime
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