Return to Ithaca (2014) – Film Review
Director: Laurent Cantet
Stars: Isabel Santos, Jorge Perugorría, Fernando Hechavarria
by Ashleigh Millman
Cantent’s sensitive exploration of ageing and friendship offers an insight into the traumas of time, looking at how five old friends’ expectations of their lives have panned out over the years. Drawing together writer Amadeo (Néstor Jiménez), the feisty Tanía (Isabel Santos), troubled painter Rafa (Fernando Hechavarria), rebellious Eddy (Jorge Perugorría), and factory worker Aldo (Pedro Julia Díaz Ferran) for a form of reunion, thoughts soon turn from glittery retrospect to their darker realities.
These realities are hinted at throughout one conversation, held almost entirely on a Havanan rooftop, but never fully examined until much later in the film. Cantent keeps us hooked with small titbits of information, waiting for the moments when push comes to shove and friends come to verbal blows.
Return to Ithaca feels like it would suit a theatrical rendition much better than a filmic one. Whilst the performances are strikingly good, this comes from necessity within the script, as it relies heavily on each character’s ability to be natural, engaging and nuanced. It wouldn’t work without such a strong cast, and to transfer this on to the stage would much better suit the single scene setting and brooding conversation. Film offers the opportunity for technical additions such as flashback or soundtrack, which Cantent, in his own stylistic impression, chooses to ignore.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t function well, but the personal involvement of the audience and a largely dialogue-based narrative feels wasted on screen. At worst, it drags out the plot to the point of boredom. It would have been interesting to see the characters back in their heyday, and to explore the implications of their ageing on the now unhappy lives they lead. When a picture is passed around showing the group in their youth, it leaves the marked impression of longing lingering throughout the friends.
As for the actual problems of the friends, it’s a heart breaking journey of self-expression, though one that could have been speedier in parts. None of them are happy in their lives, or are happy with the way things turned out – many making sacrifices for love in its various forms that impact them beyond measure. Prostitution is often used as a metaphor for the members of the group, selling themselves out for money in different ways without ever really feeling fulfilled in their endeavours.
The creatives are troubled and unable to tap into their talent as the years have gone on, disconnected from what impassioned them in the first place. Parents are disappointed and lonely, and Cuba is a struggle for all of them to survive in, no matter how much they love – or once loved– their country.
Overall, Cantent’s piece is an interesting one to consider. It looks at realistic, painful situations that we as humans may go through, and the failings we will suffer as we age. Whilst no one has really dealt with their issues effectively, the conversation about them is as therapeutic for those unloading as it is for us to watch.
‘Return To Ithaca’ will be available on Curzon Home Cinema