Return to Ithaca
- 1h 32min
Sun is setting on Havana. Five friends are gathered to celebrate the return of Amadeo after 16 years of exile in Madrid.Sun is setting on Havana. Five friends are gathered to celebrate the return of Amadeo after 16 years of exile in Madrid.Sun is setting on Havana. Five friends are gathered to celebrate the return of Amadeo after 16 years of exile in Madrid.
One of the few criticisms made to the film is its theatrical form, giving rise to the usual (or should I say inescapable) derogatory term of "filmed play". One can wonder why the locution appears under the critic's pen as soon as there is unity of time, place and action or when the director has dared adapt a stage play ? As if cinema and theater were mutually exclusive! Don't some filmed plays contain more "cinema" than certain movies in wide screen changing settings - natural or artificial - every five minutes ? and the reverse. I personally experienced more thrills watching "chamber movies" like "Twelve Angry Men" or "Death and the Maiden" than "The Ten Commandments" and the like. So let's brush aside this phony argument and let's try and analyze "Return to Ithaca" for what it is, a powerful exciting thought-provoking apologue.
To begin with, what is the situation and who are the characters ? The time is one warm evening these days, the place a terrace overlooking Malecon Boulevard in Havana. Three friends are gathered there waiting for Amadeo, a novelist suffering from writer's block, back in Havana after sixteen years of exile. Before his coming, Tania, Rafa and Aldo drink, laugh, dance, exchange happy memories. After Amadeo finally drops in, Eddy, another seemingly jolly good fellow, joins the party, which soon... turns sour. Little by little, the five revelers' social conditions and inner feelings are revealed: Tania is an embittered eye doctor who only ekes out a living; Rafa, a once major artist, has become an alcoholic and is now reduced to painting daubs; Aldo, an honest man , does nothing better than mount batteries in a factory despite his engineer's training. As for Eddy, a genuine literature lover, he has been a self-satisfied parvenu for years...
From dusk to dawn, the complicit old friends will turn accusers; of the failed Revolution, of themselves and their past naiveté, and above all of... the four others. With a few exceptions (the dinner taken in Aldo's apartment), tensions prevail; rage breaks out : the five of them tear each other apart in a cruel game of truth.
As the day breaks, they are still together, exhausted, wondering if their friendship will survive the psychodrama they have just gone through.
And as the end credit rolls, the viewers, shaken as they are, realize how irrelevant it is to reason in terms of "filmed play". Watching people talking for the whole duration of a film is not necessarily boring. A movie will never be dull if - as is the case here - the topics broached are intelligent, if they are source of conflict, if there are hidden truths that are doled out shrewdly, if the tone varies constantly from exhilaration to depression, if there is singing and dancing and anger and wit and spite, if the camera moves are slick, if the editing is dynamic. Last but not the least when like here - the lines of dialogue signed by a great Cuban novelist (Leonardo Padura) are told so brilliantly by a pocketful of the best Cuban actors of the time (of Isabel Santos, Jorge Perugorría, Fernando Hechevarria, Nestor Jiménez and Pedro Julio Diaz Ferran I really cannot say which one is my favorite).
A real masterpiece, reminiscent of Tchekhov's dramas or classics of the Italian cinema such as Ettore Scola's "We All Loved Each Other". An all the more impressive feat as "Return to Ihaca" is directed by a French filmmaker, who seems as comfortable in the circumstances as if he were Cuban-born. Highly recommended except, as I wrote before, if you are a confirmed popcorn movie lover.
- Jan 20, 2015