Coming Home

After being abducted as girl and held prisoner for eight years by a strange man, a young woman tries to adjust to freedom.

After being abducted as girl and held prisoner for eight years by a strange man, a young woman tries to adjust to freedom in the intriguing if somewhat unsatisfying Gallic drama “Coming Home.” Deploying the sort of elliptical arthouse strategy that can be read as daring or just plain lazy, writer-helmer Frederic Videau refuses to fully explain the relationship between captive and captor, which puts a huge burden on thesps Agathe Bonitzer and Reda Kateb; luckily, both are strong and subtle enough to hold aud interest, balancing out odd directorial choices. Pic won’t stray far from home beyond fests.

Told via fragmentary flashbacks in an achronological order that doesn’t always feel justified and requires close monitoring of hairstyles to be understood, the story opens with Vincent (Kateb), a lumberyard employee, deciding to free his prisoner, Gaelle (played with steel by Bonitzer as an 18-year-old, and as a child by exceptionally well-cast 10-year-old Margot Couture). He’s kept Gaelle locked up mostly in the basement of a remote farmhouse, albeit with all the books, comics and drawing materials she could want.

At first, Gaelle goes to stay at a mental asylum, where she undergoes therapy with shrink Anne (Helene Fillieres) to help her adjust to life outside. In the pic’s present tense, the intelligent, articulate but prickly Gaelle is reunited with her now-divorced parents (Noemie Lvovsky and Jacques Bonnaffe) and meets up with former schoolmate Timothee (Makita Samba), and Videau and Bonitzer’s strongest suit lies in conveying the weird disconnect that hobbles Gaelle’s attempts to rekindle these relationships. In one of the pic’s most powerful scenes, Gaelle’s mother, clearly still mourning the child she lost, caresses her “little girl’s” face, much to the now-grown Gaelle’s awkward discomfort; she’s not the kid she was when she went missing, and her mother hasn’t yet grasped that fact.

These post-freedom scenes convince much more than those showing Gaelle and Vincent when he still had her trapped in his basement, especially since the script unexpectedly opts to make their relationship largely chaste, at least early on, more like that between a parent and child. It’s ambiguously implied that they have sex in the later years of Gaelle’s imprisonment, which restructures the power dynamics between them.

This complex, shifting relationship should be the proper heart of the story, but some auds will struggle to buy into their relationship. A disclaimer at the beginning asserts that the film is not based on real events, although Gaelle’s story closely parallels that of Natascha Kampusch, an Austrian girl who was also imprisoned by a man, Wolfgang Priklopil, whom she mourned when he committed suicide. It seems that, like Vincent (and unlike real-life abductor Josef Fritzl or the title character in Markus Schleinzer’s recent “Michael”), Priklopil didn’t rape Kampusch, but he did beat her severely and threatened her life many times. Such violence is absent in “Coming Home,” presumably in order to make Vincent more sympathetic, but despite soulful thesping from the vulnerable-looking, pillow-lipped Kateb, he remains a cipher.

Perhaps his inscrutability is entirely intentional; certainly it would jibe with the surreal streak that ran through the script Videau wrote for Alain Guiraudie’s “No Rest for the Brave.” There’s an off-centeredness about the helmer’s decisions here that hover somewhere between compelling and perverse, such as the decision to use Florent Marchet’s discordant score, which alternates between odd horn-based blasts and sub-Daft Punk electro noodlings, consistently at odds with the onscreen action.

Elsewhere, tech credits are serviceable but underwhelming, from Marc Tevanian’s flat cinematography to the unexceptional editing by Francois Quiquere.

Credits: A Les Films Hatari/Studio Orlando co-production, with the participation of CNC, with the support of La Region Aquitaine, with the collaboration of L’agence Ecla/Commission du Film d’Aquitaine, with the support of La Region Limousin, in partnership with CNC, with the participation of Orange Cinema Series, in association with La Banque Postale Image 4, with the support of Cinemage 5 Developpement, La Procirep. (International sales: Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Produced by Laetitia Fevre. Co-producer, Philippe Grivel.

Coming Home

Production

Directed, written by Frederic Videau.

Crew

Camera (color), Marc Tevanian; editor, Francois Quiquere; music, Florent Marchet; art director, Catherine Mananes; costume designer, Laurence Struz; sound (Dolby Digital), Francois Mereu, Emmanuel Croset; associate producer, Michel Klein; assistant director, Reno Epelboin; casting, Stephane Batut. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 9, 2012. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Agathe Bonitzer, Reda Kateb, Helene Fillieres, Noemie Lvovsky, Jacques Bonnaffe, Margot Couture, Gregory Gadebois, Marie Payen, Makita Samba.

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