The second scandal-tinged project to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in as many days, Catherine Corsini’s “Homecoming” is vastly more interesting than that other film maudit, “Jeanne du Barry,” though the pair make for worthy foils.
While Maïwenn’s stuffy historical epic drew protests on the Croisette due to the extracurricular activities of its stars, Corsini’s windswept jaunt very nearly didn’t make the trip – the title was omitted from the competition when news of irresponsible on-set practices broke just before the selection was announced. That the lack of oversight involved a minor seemed to seal the project’s fate before a subsequent investigation and the absence of any formal complaints put the title back on track.
Still, the damage was substantial. Unlike the stars of “Jeanne du Barry,” whose deeds are clear and whose supporters and critics remain galvanized on either side, the general murkiness of the charges laid against “Homecoming” cast a shadow that might be awfully hard to shake – a mark of original sin made all the more ironic given the bright, liberated and generous tenor of the final product.
Because whatever else happened on-set, Corsini has delivered a wonderful film, a beautifully calibrated coming-of-age drama that ever so elegantly flutters questions of race, class, guilt and opportunity through a seaside summer breeze.
The breakout from Corsini’s 2021 Cannes entry “The Divide,” Aïssatou Diallo Sagna plays Khedidja, a mother-of-two first seen in wordless prologue fleeing the island of Corsica, young daughters in tow, with a look of unmitigated anguish painted across her face. When the trio returns just one scene later, fifteen years have passed, turning the shy girls into headstrong young women.
18-year-old Jessica (Suzy Bemba) has just graduated top of her class, with France’s top university lined up come fall; three-years younger, Farah (Esther Gohourou) is still finding her way, developing a taste for trouble in a system less forgiving of Black growing pains. And what of the pains of Khedidja, who raised her daughters a widow and who only returned to Corsica (with evident displeasure) as the nanny for an affluent Parisian family?
Into the heady mix comes danger and love, sometimes tied together. For Jessica, she’s drawn to Gaia (Lomane de Dietrich), the free-spirited eldest daughter of Khedidja’s employers; for Farah, it’s Orso (Harold Orsini), a drug-dealing ruffian who slings racial epithets at his intended sweetheart for want of better pick-up lines.
While the characters’ speech communicates one thing and their bodies another, Corsini (who wrote the script with Naïla Guiguet) is a deft enough observer to recognize that both forms carry weight. If Gaia is a loving and encouraging partner – especially for a bookworm unfamiliar with romance, queer or otherwise – the white Parisian is just as liable to throw around words like “thug” without recognizing the damage that might cause.
As in life, nothing is ever fixed into a single intractable mold in this vibrant world Corsini draws out. Characters are rife with contradictions, situations can change on a dime and the sea of opportunities remains as boundless as the Mediterranean coastline. With neither moralism nor prurience, “Homecoming” recognizes that teens on holiday live in a world of sea, sex, and sun, exposing both the hedonistic pleasures and head-splitting hangovers to the harsh light of day.
As children born to the island, raised in a house where certain questions were not asked, and returned, as Jessica puts it, with “a void they don’t know how to fill,” the film’s protagonists feel flawed and real. As a project that treats the wonderful messiness of life with unfortunately slipshod touch, so too does “Homecoming.”