I Want To Go Home Review

Never one to make two films even remotely alike, Alain Resnais left behind the musical experimentation of L’Amour à Mort and the staged melodrama of Mélo to make a mostly English language film based on a story by American cartoonist Jules Feiffer. The only consistency to his approach being his appropriation of elements from other media and incorporating them into cinema. With I Want To Go Home, he returned again to the world of BD (comic books) which he had previously used in a different context in La Vie Est un Roman.

Elsie Wellman (Laura Benson) has fled to France in search of culture, intellectualism and the sophistication that she feels is non-existent in the United States. She wants to study Flaubert at the Sorbonne under the renowned scholar, Christian Gauthier (Gérard Depardieu), who she never manages to meet. Elsie is particularly ashamed of her father, Joey Wellman (Adolph Green) who draws cartoons for a newspaper syndicate, an occupation she regards as rather childish. However, the French have a more respectful attitude towards comic book artists and when Joey is invited over to attend a convention of comicbook art in Paris, he hopes to impress his daughter and bring about a reconciliation.

Directing a film in a foreign language often has its difficulties for a director, no matter how fluent they might be in the language, and there appears to be the same misjudgements of casting and performance that this type of situation often gives rise to. Adolph Green (yes, The Adolph Green, songwriter of 'New York, New York' and many classic Broadway musicals) seems a little too over-the-top in his curmudgeonly, uncultured character – over-enunciating his dialogue and gesturing wildly. I found this easier to accept as the film went on though and it is probably a perfectly accurate depiction of an American who finds himself out of his depth among a group of intellectuals whose language and culture he doesn’t understand. Linda Lavin (who some might know as the lead waitress in the US diner sitcom Alice) is one of the better performers here – even her French doesn’t grate on the ear. The same cannot be said for Laura Benson, whose performance is appalling and whose French accent, after her character has been supposedly living in Paris for two years, is dreadful. It makes me cringe, so I don’t know what a French person would think of it.

Being an Alain Resnais film, the story is not as straightforward as it might sound. The film introduces cartoon elements, the Pink Panther-like characters Hepp Catt and Sally Catt taunt both Joey and Elsie throughout the film. Joey’s creations do look out of place in the gallery amongst the sophisticated European comic art of Tardi, Bilal and Pratt, and this mirrors the discomfort that Joey plainly feels in the company of Gauthier’s circle of friends. A costumed ball held in Joey’s honour sees the cast dressed as famous American comic characters from Dr Fate to Tweedy-Pie (and Depardieu as Popeye) adds a fun and nostalgic element that counterbalances the uncomfortable realisations that the characters undergo at the end of the film.

I Want To Go Home is not particularly well regarded among the Resnais back catalogue, but it’s not a bad film really. The story is a little contrived, but it has interesting points to make about the relative values of art and culture as well as some poignant reflections on relationships and old age. These ideas are carried a little too far however – having already made its point and tied up the various strands of the storyline, the film insists on hammering its message home, drawing the ending out a little further than strictly necessary.

The DVD reviewed is part of the French Alain Resnais 5-DVD box set from MK2, which also contains La Vie Est un Roman, Mon Oncle d'Amérique, L’Amour à Mort and Mélo, all of which have been reviewed on DVDTimes. Each of the films can also be bought separately. As usual, MK2 have provided substantial and very relevant extras for each of the films. All the films contain English subtitles except I Want To Go Home whose original soundtrack is mostly English language. The extras however contain no subtitles at all.

The picture is reasonably good. It is a little bit grainy and a touch soft, but there are no marks on the print and no problems with any artefacts other than maybe one of two frames which seem to have some minor colour fluctuation. Overall the film has been nicely transferred, anamorphically at 1.66:1, with warm and sympathetic tones.

The sound is a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack which functions well with no noticeable problems. The film contains the original English language soundtrack and a French dub soundtrack. This might sound like a good thing, but you are actually worse off here compared to the other films in the Resnais boxset which are in French with English subtitles. The reason being that the film is actually bilingual with some conversations between French characters being conducted in French. The optional subtitles therefore translate the English language dialogue for the French audience, but there is no corresponding subtitle track for English language listeners. There is not that much French dialogue and it is not that difficult to follow if you have some knowledge of French, but if you don’t there are some key scenes that you will just have to guess at what is going on. There is a second subtitle track on the DVD, but all this does is translate the few English phrases on the French dubbed version.

Interview with Alain Resnais: I Want To Go Home (Oct 2002) (14:21)
Alain Resnais speaks to Serge Toubiana, in two separate interviews on this DVD, one on the film and one on the director's thoughts on cinema and DVD in general. Given the director's reluctance to appear on camera, both are audio only. In the first interview Resnais discusses the origins of the project. Although a fan of bandes dessinées and US comic strips, Resnais was more interested in Feiffer’s theatrical work than in the fact that he is a renowned cartoonist. He also discusses the problems with the films reception throughout Europe and France, where a lot of the cultural and comicbook references didn’t carry across.

Interview with Alain Resnais: Cinema, Video and DVD (Oct 2002) (15:07)
In the second interview, Resnais gives his thoughts on the pros and cons of cinema versus DVD. Surprisingly, the director is actually a fan of video and DVD, as long as the director’s original intentions for the viewing of the film are respected. In many ways he feels the magic of the cinema experience is now gone. With regards to DVD extras, he does not like 'Making of' features, believing these to be contrary to the illusion of cinema that the director is trying to create and he has a similar aversion to scene by scene commentaries. Deleted scenes, selective commentary and interviews with cast and crew for certain films he finds can be very illuminating without spoiling the experience of the film. I have to say I find his views on this pretty much echo my own.

Sylvette Baudrot (Sept 2002) (10 mins)
Born in Egypt, Baudrot’s ability to speak English came in very useful in her career, allowing her to work with Alfred Hitchcock, Preston Sturges and Gene Kelly as well as many famous French directors. In this interview she discusses her career working with Resnais, with particular detail to her first Resnais film, Hiroshima Mon Amour. She briefly talks about the insertion of the cartoon elements into I Want To Go Home.

Marin Karmitz (Oct 2002) (11 mins)
Despite the fact that the film lost Marin Karmitz a lot of money and despite its bad reviews, the producer thinks that I Want To Go Home is an extremely important film and one of his personal favourites, which he believes will be re-assessed in the future. One person described the film to him as "‘La Règle du Jeu’ 50 years later" and he believes that to be very appropriate considering the costumed-ball, the misunderstandings, the role-playing and various other elements in the film. For Karmitz, the film is about getting old and approaching death and he finds it a very touching film indeed.

The Alain Resnais collection
Trailers for all the films in the Resnais box set are included here - Mon Oncle d'Amérique (1980), La Vie Est Un Roman (1983), L'Amour à Mort (1984), Mélo (1986) and I Want To Go Home (1989).

There is a decent film in here, but I think it is sabotaged by some poor performances and in the end it falls into the trap of an ending that is in complete contradiction to the American sentimentality and self-absorption it professes to disavow. As part of the MK2 5-DVD Resnais set however, it is a pleasant and interesting contribution to the wide variety of styles that the director employed during his films of the 1980s.

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