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Cannes 2023: Homecoming Is a Rewarding Family Drama

Image Courtesy of Festival de Cannes

Probably higher on my list of must-see releases from Cannes 2023 than it would have been for most was the new film by French filmmaker Catherine Corsini, whose output has been characterized by strong, emotionally affecting dramas throughout the 2010s. Her latest release Homecoming continues in a similar fashion but has a more contemporary, exciting feel than her earlier poignant period pieces like Summertime and An Impossible Love, dealing with younger characters and a shorter time frame, following a black urban family out of their element under the Corsican sun.

A vivid, affectionate and emotional family drama and coming of age story, Homecoming follows Kheididja (Aissatou Diallo Sagna), a middle-aged mother and her teenage daughters Jessica (Esther Gohourou) and Farah (Suzy Bemba) as they return to Corsica where the girls were born and to which they’ve not returned in 15 years since the death of their father. Kheididja is a nanny and has been invited with her own daughters to accompany her employers (Denis Podalydes and Virginie Ledoyen) to their summer home island where she had her whirlwind romance all those years earlier, the great love of her life left her bereaved, rejected and with two small girls to raise alone. She’s uneasy about the prospect of unearthing so many painful memories, but her daughters, who barely remember Corsica or their father, are privately anxious to capitalize on this opportunity to learn more about themselves. And so, their relationship is tested as secrets are uncovered, and over the course of their respective formative summers, the family grows apart.

Image from Homecoming: Jessica (Ester Gohourou) hangs out with her new girlfriend Gaia (Lomane de Deitrich) and her friend at the beach
Image Courtesy of Festival de Cannes.

The stories of each of Homecoming‘s key characters are told in parallel. Some are more isolated while others have a big impact on the bonds between the women, but each one develops the characters in convincing and engaging directions. Jessica undergoes a sexual awakening courtesy of a rich local girl (Lomane de Dietrich), Farah embarks upon a rivalry with a local bully (Harold Orsoni), and Kheididja reforges a close acquaintance with an old friend of her husband’s (Cedric Appietto), perhaps finding a second chance at love with him. These occurrences might sound trite on paper, and yes, Corsini has never been afraid to embrace melodramatic story beats, but the naturalistic writing and performances manage to walk the fine line she’s drawing, making the characters feel credible and the conflicts between them organic.

Homecoming‘s drama focuses on a healthy balance of internal and external conflict, within and without the family and each member. Corsica is evidently very white and the dark-skinned family draw suspect glances from the locals as soon as they arrive and Farah’s rivalry with a local boy sparks up because she sees him being racist to a group of children. It’s little wonder that Kheididja felt unwelcome even after her marriage to a local boy, nor that she encourages her daughters to be wary about expressing themselves and their sexualities too openly.

Image from Homecoming: Farah (Suzy Bemba) spends some quality time down by the river with her father's old friend (Cedric Apietto)
Image Courtesy of Festival de Cannes.

Jessica is the straight-A student and Farah is the loud, impulsive screw-up, but over the course of the film’s events the two start to switch places, with Jessica’s burgeoning sexuality and the influence of her new girlfriend Gaia opening her up to feelings and experiences she’d not previously been confronted with, leaving Farah to grow up in turn and be the adult. It’s a finely nuanced picture of growing up and incredibly well played by the young cast. None of the characters here are perfect, with their emotions driving them each to rash, but understandable decisions that have painful consequences for each other. As Kheididja plaintively asks of her daughters, they don’t need forgiveness, but indulgence. They’re each still working out their feelings and have yet to fully understand their needs. Each is going through something and needs space, support and understanding, but these are just not things their family members are always on hand to give.

Homecoming is a refreshingly funny movie as well, with particular credit to Corsini and her young cast for one of the most credible “getting high for the first time” scenes in recent memory. Gaia’s parents also provide deft comic relief, as her father pathologically reminds his daughter of her faults and is preposterously in denial of her evident homosexuality. It never feels like forced comedy, though: the performances are so consistently deft and naturalistic that the whole film maintains an air of spontaneity and energy, even when the story starts hitting beats that would feel melodramatic in a less finessed production.

Like with Summertime, Corsini’s skill at depicting the film’s climate and milieu is a particular strength: Homecoming takes full advantage of its beautiful Mediterranean island setting to offset its difficult family drama against the canvas of an idyllic summer of love. However high the emotions run, the likable characters and enviable location keep the film accessible and enjoyable. Homecoming may not be as challenging film as An Impossible Love, nor quite as enchanting a one as Summertime, but it’s less flawed than the former and closer to the latter in tone, showcasing winning performances of endearing, relatable and nuanced characters as they each jostle for room to grow independently of each other.

Written by Hal Kitchen

A graduate of the University of Kent, Reviews Editor Hal Kitchen joined Film Obsessive as a freelance writer in May 2020 following their postgraduate studies in Film with a specialization in Gender Theory and Studies. In November 2020 Hal assumed their role as Reviews Editor. Since then, Hal has written extensively for the site, writing analytical and critical pieces on film, and has represented the site at international film festivals including The London Film Festival and Panic Fest.

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