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BERLINALE 2012 Competition / France

Coming Home: eight years of endless solitude


Coming Home: eight years of endless solitude

After eight years, a kidnapper (Reda Kateb) releases Gaëlle, his only reason to live, and the adolescent runs away for her life. As she does, she turns back for just an instant to see, for the last time, the house in which she grew up, locked up in a room in the cellar. She then continues to run towards a home for troubled adolescents, destroyed parents, and a life that it not hers.

The audience in Berlin seemed to have frozen after the screening of Coming Home [+see also:
film profile
, the French film in competition by Frédéric Videau. How else could they posssibly empathise, faced with the inconceivable isolation, in both time and space, of the young girl even after her liberation, a liberation that seems to her as terrifying as what she has already survived till then? Gaëlle is played with remarkable accuracy by AgatheBonitzer.

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"I want him to die, I would feel better," says Gaëlle's mother. "You don't ask for much," says the daughter.

These eight years of a "shared life" with her kidnapper have indescribably complex implications that are magnificently reconstituted in a meticulous screenplay. The extreme realism of the film does not come from its clear link to the true story of the Austrian girl Natascha Kampusch (A warning at the beginning of the film clearly insists that it is fiction.), but from the total absence of any moral manicheism in the film. Coming Home merely observes with perfect attention to detail, but without giving any answers. We see, through a series of long flashbacks, practical details of the main duo's day-to-day life, their paradoxal power struggles, the attitude of Vincent who, although repulsive, is not violent or a rapist (Although there too, no definitive story is told, the words chosen are "to make love".), the way in which Gaëlle learns to take control of her life and her situation (without falling into the cliche of the Stockholm syndrome). Finally, even after Vincent's suicide (implied with the same subtlety of the rest of the film), Videau leaves Gaëlle's journey its ambivalence (She never says what she thinks.), and brilliantly captures the varied scars of her experience (even illustrating her isolation through her outdated vocabulary and the fact that she doesn't know how much a euro is worth), all the while asking the the most important question: not "why?" but "how?" How does one live afterwards, when the only life that one has known is deprivation from life?

Although Gaëlle does ask herself in front of her councilor if one has to be crazy to survive what she has, there is no doubt that the young victims's "great strength of life" is the real starting point of the film, Videau explained at a press conference. The great strength of his film is that he has managed to oppose the haze of an insurmountable situation with the poignant sharpness of his vital resolution.

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(Translated from French)

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