Catherine Corsini arrives in Cannes with Homecoming, an adeptly told family drama which boasts some stand out performances. Fifteen years after a tragic incident, Kheìdidja (Aissatou Diallo Sagna), a single mother, returns to Corsica with her two daughters to look after the children of a wealthy family.
Jessica (Suzy Bemba) is 18 and preparing to go to university, while her fifteen-year-old sister Farah (Esther Gohourou) is less academically inclined, but more fun; naughtier, but the one who can deflect a scolding with her wit. While mum is looking after other people’s children, the two fend for themselves, heading across the railway tracks to the campsite beach. Here, Farah almost immediately gets into trouble with a racist lifeguard/drug dealer (Harold Orsini), and gets her own back by stealing his grass. Jessica is drawn into the orbit of Gaia (Lomane de Dietrich), the grown daughter of her mother’s employers.
Already there are lines which are drawn with perhaps too sharp a pencil. Jessica is integration; going along to get along whereas her sister has a clearer sense of identity and pride, a confrontational urge that dispenses with politeness, or the subservience she glaringly observes in her mother. Perhaps she gets this from her father, a Corsican native and political activist, and who we learn about gradually and whose death overshadows their return. There are – as Mike Leigh once said – secrets and lies, and it is only a matter of time before the present must confront the ghosts of the past. She meets up with an old friend of her husband’s (Cédric Appietto), but the lies are too deep, the guilt and bitterness still too strong, and too much time has passed.
Jeanne Lapoirie’s camera manages to portray Corsica’s almost impossible beauty without being overwhelmed by it. You can feel the sand in your flip flops and the heat rash cooling in the night air. Corsini and co-writer Naïla Guiguet establish the multiple strands of the plot without tangling them, but still there are moments which require some lack of emotional intelligence on the part of the characters in order to keep her ducks in a row. The vapidity of the wealthy couple (Virginie Ledoyen and Denis Podalydès) feels too much like a given. The actors are so good that this is compounded as it gives them so little to work with. Compensation comes in the form of the two young actors Gohourou and Bemba who create a pair of siblings who are all too real in their interactions, altercations, and for some brief moments joy.
There has been controversy over the sex scenes and specifically the underage actors. No sex scenes in the film come across as exploitative or lurid. In fact far from it. There’s a tenderness, especially in the early stages as uncertainty gives way to delight, but there’s also a sex scene-shaped-hole which suggests a last minute solution. Homecoming gives an empathetic portrait of a family in a phase of change. Girls are becoming women; a mother is beginning to return to life. It has the promise of a prelude.
The 76th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 16-27 May. Follow our coverage here.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty