Laurent Cantet Cuban legacy film hit a lot of high notes and its stride early but failed to succeed in whole because it ignored some simple rules.
5 Friends meet for the first time in 16 years. They do so to celebrate the return of Amadeo. Five friends who have so much to remember and even more to forget. The rooftop terrace they are seated on in Havana is the centre of the capital and the Cuban world. This might seem like heaven but hidden under this return of Amadeo is some dark realities. He lived in self-exile in Spain. They have some issues with the government, some issues with his wife’s death, some issues with life.During the night and after song and dance, tears and laughs, they reflect on the past and make sense of the present.
Taking and making a film about people making choices about life events, always has us going back to our past and asking what we could, should or would change. Return to (As we would expect from the title) has this front and centre. Living life’s after youthful exuberance cloud has lifted, adds texture. Going over the world’s events and how this played on their own lives, adds motivation and deprivation. Failure and success are motifs that underscore characters development throughout. The returning home and returning to our past, has delivered some of cinemas greatest films. By returning to that world we escaped but always want to return back to, gives us that most human device, reflection. You always want to re-imagine who you were. You always want to change your life.
Sadly some have suggested the film lacks the punch of reality. That this ringing true or adding range has been flattened by melodrama. Director Cantet has failed to shape a narrative that connects to it roots is true, as the film plays more like a mouthpiece of political thought. However I disagree with much else. For me the film makers and actors do a great job of translating a powerful and painful story of identity and immigration. A topic rarely seen from the immigrate side on the return to home. It is true that often (I have found this in India, my adopted home) that stories of the great developed world hide realities of poverty, pain and low status jobs.
The issue in truth is that the film settles to a pace and place that make it feel like a softer piece than its depth. It never peaks but rocks along like a boat on a pond. It also tells us to relates to people with cliches of music or pictures as they tell us their life and ours also. No we want to know their life. You end up lacking care as you now feel that they, like you have survived and well enough even for the misery. It’s these two components that feel flat. This weakens a very good performance play and film into duller melodrama.
RETURN TO ITHACA
directed by Laurent Cantet is available on Curzon Home Cinema, Amazon & BT and DVD now #ReturntoIthaca