Venice Days has announced that Laurent Cantet’s Return to Ithaca, which’ll be screening as a Special Presentation in Toronto, has won the top award. Says the jury, headed by Diego Lerman: “With limited conditions of time and space the film-maker succeeds to deliver an emotional and complex take on dealing with the secrets of the past.”
“‘Old farts’ gatherings don’t interest the young,’ muses one of five reunited friends in Laurent Cantet’s tragicomic character study,” writes Variety‘s Guy Lodge. “It’s debatable, however, whether more seasoned viewers will be much more compelled by this thoughtful but rather lethargic examination of dreams deferred and relationships interrupted in politically fragile Cuba. Taking place over one balmy Havana evening and barely leaving the city-center roof terrace where the bittersweet, middle-aged get-together is being held, this airily shot talkfest doesn’t want for sensitivity, but overestimates viewers’ investment in a quintet of prickly characters whose personal histories take the film’s entire duration to assemble.”
It’s “a film whose educational value outweighs its dramatic heft,” grants Jessica Kiang at the Playlist. “Your experience will depend entirely on your tolerance for learning social history lessons through the anecdotal reminiscences and recriminations of a group of fifty-something Cubans. Ours, however, was surprisingly high. While there’s no way we can say the film made a particularly visceral or emotional impact, we were nonetheless absorbed by its thoughtful rhythms and the gradual patchwork impression it builds of a particular generation of Havana-ites. In fact, it mines lesser-seen territory twice over, as a picture of life in Castro’s Cuba, but also as a portrait of friendship within an age group who, being beyond the first or even second blush of youth, but not yet ready to dodder into retirement, are often consigned to a kind of cinematic invisibility.”
Update, 9/7: “Return to Ithaca is about constricted dreams, its characters obsessed with examining what could have been different had they only made different choices,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. “It’s a film draped in regret and guilt, perhaps more so than any other of Cantet’s films, even Heading South (2005), which seems to offer the flip-side perspective of exploitation. And yet Return to Ithaca, like its troubled characters, isn’t without moments of great beauty and compelling camaraderie, as we leave them behind in the grey hues of an early morning while they break the dawn.”
Update, 9/10: “A nausea-inducing film of simplistic primitivism, Return to Ithaca is Laurent Cantet’s contribution to the debunking of the myth of Caribbean socialism (as if there were any illusions left),” writes Celluloid Liberation Front for Cinema Scope.
Updates, 9/14: For Ambrož Pivk at the International Cinephile Society, Ithaca is “a political film, reflecting on the oppression of the Cuban communist regime, especially directed towards the artistically inclined youth. In that regard, it’s an important film and not an entirely specific one, as it also holds importance for those growing up under the shadow of similar regimes, especially in Eastern Europe (as I and some of my jury colleagues agreed). But above all, it’s a very touching, personal story.”
“There’s no denying that the talky drama demands patience,” writes David Rooney for the Hollywood Reporter. “But it’s nonetheless a lovingly made film that acquires unexpected poignancy as it airs both the spiritual surrender and the festering anger of a generation, taking stock of their disillusionment with a country that has failed them. In simplistic terms, it’s a politically charged Cuban version of The Big Chill.”
Update, 9/15: “The title is from Homer’s Odyssey,” notes Wesley Morris at Grantland. “Here it refers to the decade that one of the friends, a writer named Amadeo (Néstor Jiménez), spent out of the country. To the surprise and resentment of everyone else, he’s come home to stay. The film builds to his explanation for departing so abruptly, and it is moving. So are the airings of hard feelings and pungent memories. The revolution’s damage is generations deep. The film dramatizes its characters’ hourly wrestling with what it costs both to remain in the country and to flee from it…. One of the thrills of watching these actors together is that you feel 40 years of friendship among them, along with all the attendant, particularly Cuban complexities of remaining close.”