On Wednesday I watched two films that treated the same subject, youth, “Monster” and later in the night, “Le Retour” by Catherine Corsini who was in Cannes previously with “La Fracture.”
“Le Retour” (“The Return” in the original French), there isn’t much new left to say about anything where concerns young adulthood. It’s a time for exploring, trying on various selves, observing and mimicking others, surrendering to the forbidden. So what’s enjoyable about a film about youth is the treatment. The locale here is Corsica, a place I don’t know anything about and it was a joy to behold, this mountainous region, its inhabitants, the sensuality of a village in the sun, the vaguely-threatening demeanor of the inhabitants.
A black mother and her daughters return to Corsica fifteen years after leaving the island following a tragedy, the mother works as nanny to a family of French people who reside there, the parents are white and bourgeois, the husband is played by one of France’s most visible actors, Denis Podalydès, the wife is played by Virginie Ledoyen.
Two daughters (they’re played by Suzy Bemba and Esther Gouhourou), two very different personalities. One is headed for Sciences Po, one of France’s most prestigious colleges, the other, younger, one, has street smarts and is enterprising–just not the right kind of enterprise. And she doesn’t mind throwing down with a young alpha on the beach after he confiscated a football from a gaggle of kids he finds bothersome. She asks for the ball back on their behalf, tensions rise, the mother who’s a few feet away intervenes and drags her daughter away, yelling “why do you always have to ruin everything?” Clearly, the older daughter is the favorite, not her.
To what extent does the past affect us throughout our life? And a teenager? It’s the more urgent interrogation of “Le Retour.” Why come back, why did this family of three leave Corsica in the first place? Events that led to the loss of the father, a local, born in a village not far from the trailer park where the women live. Their past is hidden from them and the daughters’ rancor at their mother for holding their histories hostage leads the eldest to go in search of that village, to find out who her family is.
Corsini is a methodical and very talented filmmaker. She’s also a product of her age, when ideology risks stealing art’s thunder. An activist for LGBTQ rights, in 2022 she was president of the jury for the Queer Palm program. She explained during an interview how films by LGBT directors aim to flip the switch on gender and the patriarchy. “Le retour” is also part of that endeavor, it’s a woman-driven story but Corsini takes a subtle approach to how these themes are approached and leaves enough room for cinema to grow within the few requisites that she imposes. How many films and series have I watched recently in which men are portrayed by women filmmakers as vaporous dunces engrossed in pleasure-seeking or lamentation? Here, the male character, the friend of the deceased father and love interest of the mother, isn’t reduced to a caricature.
The ending is delivered fast and neat, not much in the way of surprises but who doesn’t like a happy ending?
An enjoyable film.