Saturday, 11 February 2012

'Coming Home' Berlinale (Competition) review:

All films carry the well-worn disclaimer that they are works of fiction and that any similarities the characters may have to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. The difference with French kidnap drama 'Coming Home' is that this legal message appears right at the start in big letters, promising the film is entirely the work of its director's unfettered imagination. It's a strange claim to have to make, especially because though the plot bears some similarity to the disturbing case of Austrian Josef Fritzl, there are enough differences to make this opening seem over-cautious - raising the possibility that its makers are actively courting the comparison.

As you may have gathered from the above, Frédéric Videau's 'A Moi Seule' is the story of a social misfit, Vincent (Reda Kateb), who keeps a young girl in a purpose-built basement under his house. Held there for a number of years, Gaelle (a strong central performance from Agathe Bonitzer) grows up in isolation in this subterranean lair with only Vincent for company. Whilst he is at work, or entertaining a colleague, she waits below gagged and bound. Yet unlike the Fritzl case they are not related - Vincent snatched Gaelle in his van after school one day - and Vincent is also initially determined not to take their relationship anywhere physical (in terms of sex or violence). Instead he seems to view Gaelle as someone to talk to, though his motivation is never made explicitly apparent.

The film begins with Vincent releasing Gaelle after years of captivity and, after a moment's hesitation, she runs to the nearest bus stop, seeing an old "missing child" poster of herself on the way home. But, of course, she can't simply go home. Everything has changed. The film is then split between the past and the present, as we see Gaelle's life with Vincent and her fresh incarceration within the grounds of a psychiatric hospital. She visits her (now separated) parents, whose lives have been wrecked by the abduction, but she no longer connects with them. They wish Vincent were dead, but Gaelle is defensive of her captor, with elements of Stockholm syndrome setting in - though, like many of the questions posed by the film, this is never satisfactorily explored.

Much like earlier competition entry 'Today' ('Aujourd'Hui'), 'Coming Home' is a fascinating concept that is frustratingly underserved by the resultant film. It's not brave enough to takes the audience anywhere too unsettling, with even a sexual liaison reduced to insinuation and relegated off-camera, whilst the day-to-day interactions between the duo that dominate never end up anywhere particularly deep or interesting. A film like this needs to either disturb the audience or raise questions about human behaviour. For instance Greek film 'Dogtooth' does both brilliantly, with a stylistic flair and distinctive voice totally missing here.

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