Review: Back Home
by Vittoria Scarpa
- Antonio Albanese returns to direct a bittersweet – and occasionally surreal – comedy that sees an exasperated sales assistant from Milan take a street vendor back to Senegal
To the cry of "let's all have a nice humanitarian holiday," the protagonist of the new film by Antonio Albanese, Back Home [+see also:
film profile], embarks on a long journey to take a Senegalese street vendor back home in order to solve the problem of out-of-control immigration. A paradoxical idea that translates into a crazy on-the-road movie, from Milan to Senegal, which initially errs on the side of the politically incorrect, before turning, as the film progresses, into an ode to open dialogue and understanding between different people and cultures. In his fourth film following Uomo d'acqua dolce (1997), La fame e la sete (1999) and Il nostro matrimonio è in crisi (2002), the well-respected actor, on the back of the success of Like a Cat on a Highway [+see also:
film profile], which saw him star alongside Paola Cortellesi, raking in €10 million in the box office, tackles the thorny and very current issue of overwhelming immigration with irony and a touch of black comedy.
Written, directed and starred in by Albanese (who wrote the screenplay along with Andrea Salerno, Stefano Bises and the satirical illustrator Makkox), Back Home catapults the viewer into the very orderly and monotonous life of Mario Cavallaro, a fifty-year-old man with no family, passionate about horticulture and a lover of routine, which involves drinking a coffee in the bar downstairs every morning after dodging a myriad of non-EU citizens who try to sell him things and call him, against his will, "friend!" ("I'm not your friend" is his punctual reply). When he is told that his beloved bar is being bought out by some "kebab Egyptians," his world begins to waver. But the coup de grace comes when a Senegalese street vendor, Oba (the French actor Alex Fondja) sets up his stall right in front of Mario’s shop which sells fine socks inherited from his father, where he offers the same items on the cheap, stealing from customers and making fun of him.
"There are too many of you!" blurts out Mario, who feels surrounded and now in the grip of a nightmare. So, out of racism or just pure cruelty, he devises a plan: drug Oba, bundle him into the back of his car and take him back to Senegal. "If everyone took a migrant home, the problem would be solved," is his conviction. But also getting in his car to be taken home is Dalida, Oba's seemingly sweet sister (Aude Legastelois), who Mario will fall in love with along the way as she begins to change his perspective. The transition from a black comedy to a feel-good comedy is fairly quick, and in this wavering tone the whole film suffers a bit. "The story is about the meeting of two different types of isolation: that of Mario, who represents the West, honest but wary, and that of Oba and Dalila, who left their home. Dialogue and a shared experience bring them together," explains the director. A lighthearted way to talk about diversity (also showing us "their" point of view), our contemporary fears and sustainable immigration, between realism and lucid madness.
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