Two years ago, French director Catherine Corsini was in Cannes’ Competition with The Divide, a film that used the deteriorating marriage of two well-heeled Parisian women as a frame of reference for considering the “Yellow Vest” protests of 2018. However well-intended Corsini’s cinematic activism may be, The Divide registered as an insufficient response to the French political climate, largely because of her choice of protagonists. It was as if Corsini understood the need to overcome her bourgeois point of view, but simply couldn’t do it. Homecoming is a small step in the right direction, but again Corsini organizes her protagonists’ complex reality through a blinkered upper-class perspective. The fact that Homecoming generally has more on its mind than did The Divide make the new film’s shortcomings that much more regrettable.
Corsini once again works with Aissatou Diallo Sagna, the former medical worker whose first acting role was as a beleaguered nurse in The Divide. Here, she plays Kheìdidja, a French-Senegalese woman with two daughters, college-bound Jessica (Suzy Bemba) and 15-year-old troublemaker Farah (Esther Gohourou). In the opening moments of Homecoming, we see a flashback to Kheìdidja preparing to leave Corsica with her kids when she receives a phone call with tragic news. Her Corsican husband has just died in a car accident. In the present day, she and the kids are traveling back to Corsica for the first time since their departure, and Jessica and Farah hope to learn more about their late father. But this desire is complicated by a series of family secrets that Kheìdidja has never managed to address.
Although Homecoming is shot in a rather uninflected realist mode, one immediately notices that once in Corsica, Kheìdidja and her girls are literally hard to see. The underlit cinematography allows them to almost disappear into the scenery. There has been a fairly extensive discourse regarding the chemistry and light sensitivity of Western image-making technologies, suggesting an ideological bias towards the accurate rendering of white skin. But one gets the sense that Corsini is intentionally cloaking her protagonists in twilight to suggest their marginality. Homecoming is steeped in conflicting signals regarding race, class, and ethnicity. But there’s an underlying conservatism at work. Perhaps without meaning to, Corsini suggests that despite these characters’ intersectional identities, and the changing face of Europe more broadly, they can never truly belong to larger society.
As Kheìdidja explains, she never felt she belonged to her husband’s world, and this was exacerbated when her mother-in-law (Marie-Ange Geronimi) blames her for her son’s death. This inability to thrive in the white world is repeated when the family returns to Corsica. Jessica starts a relationship with Gaia (Lomane de Dietrich), the daughter of Kheìdidja’s wealthy employers, while Farah is antagonized, then befriended, by a casually racist local boy (Jean Michelangelini). Corsini creates a scenario wherein Kheìdidja, Jessica, and Farah are able to begin new phases in their lives, but in the end they all return to the family they know, the three of them against the world. Their flirtation with European whiteness is tragic, nearly deadly.
Corsini seems to be attempting to examine the personal fallout from various historical forms of oppression: racism, colorism, classicism, and homophobia. However, simply touching on these issues is not the same as producing an analysis. Homecoming ends by curtailing cultural hybridity in favor of self-separation, as if her characters’ desires for something larger are little more than expressions of internalized colonial consciousness. In true bourgeois fashion, Corsini depicts a multiculturalism defined by tolerance and coexistence, which sounds fine until you realize what that actually entails. We only encounter one another in passing, and no one ever has to learn, grow, or change.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 21.5.