Catherine Corsini

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Catherine Corsini

Homecoming (Le Retour) director Catherine Corsini, producer Chaz Productions and sales agent Playtime have defended the film’s Cannes Competition inclusion amid what they claim are false accusations of on-set unrest.

Earlier this month, French media reported Corsini had been accused of harassment of crew, other crew members were accused of inappropriate acts against two actors, and the CNC had pulled funding due to an intimate scene involving minors that was added to the script without being pre-approved in the shooting schedule.

Corsini and her longtime producing partner Elisabeth Perez of Chaz Productions have written an open letter defending the “inaccurate” reports, claiming “there is no complaint of any kind against Catherine Corsini, nor against the production of the film.”

They said  “anonymous and defamatory emails [that] were sent to the whole profession and to the press”, were nothing but an “extraordinarily damaging rumour about the film.”

Homecoming was added to the Cannes line-up earlier this week, but originally had been selected ahead of the festival’s original April 13 press conference. The festival opted to hold off on announcing the film due to the accusations.

A Cannes spokesperson told local newspaper Le Parisien at the time  “the selection of the film has not been cancelled, but the Board of Directors wanted to know more about the situation of the work.” After looking into the situation, Fremaux and his selection committee opted to include the film in the selection.

In their statement, Corsini and Perez thanked the festival “for deciding to preserve the freedom of the selector, Thierry Frémaux, as well as the freedom of expression of a filmmaker.” They added: “It is fortunate that the world’s largest festival took the time to thoroughly verify the veracity of the rumours [and] any other decision would have set a serious precedent for auteur cinema and for the event itself.”

They admitted to not abiding by protocol and declaring the scene involving the minors that was cited by the CCHSCT, a French organisation designed to protect health, safety and working conditions on set. The duo called the omission an “administrative failure” and said that, while the 15 and 17-year-old minor actors in question were “in agreement” with the scenes, “we should have declared it. Not having done so constitutes a breach of the law and in fact, the production was sanctioned by the CNC.”

Corsini and Perez said the young actors in question were fully clothed and only their faces were filmed and that “there was no touching or inappropriate contact between the two of them, as we may have heard or read in the press.” They added: “Cinema is the art of suggestion. And these young people understood this: without being forced in the least, they refused intimacy coaches and stand-ins, which were nevertheless insisted upon, confident in the relationship they had with the director.”

The statement does confirm, however, that there were two reports of allegedly inappropriate gestures involving two of the film’s crew members that led to internal investigations that Perez conducted alongside the shoot’s harassment consultant. The CCHSCT found no wrongdoing.

Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, founder of the film’s sales agent Playtime, told Screen: “I think we’ve made progress in the industry in allowing victims or people who feel they have been victimised to speak and to be protected in the process. [But] we are also… testing the limits of how to continue to create art and not be paralysed by anonymous accusations. We cannot allow rumours and defamation to control the process. The way it was handled is a lesson for the whole industry.”

Brigaud-Robert said there is no ongoing investigation into allegations and, while the film did lose CNC funding due to sanctions for not reporting the additional scene to the appropriate organisations, “it is not the first time a movie has been sanctioned for a creative choice or because something has not been declared.”

Homecoming stars Aissatou Diallo Sagna as a 40-something woman working for a wealthy Parisian family who invites her to join them on a summertime trip to Corsica along with her own daughters. The film also stars Denis Polyadès and Virginie Ledoyen.

Corsini has been a Cannes regular with Competition titles The Divide in 2021 and Replay in 2001 in addition to Trois Mondes in Un Certain Regard in 2012.

The letter also includes testimony from the film’s veteran actor Podalydès and young actress Esther Gohourou, who said she was not uncomfortable with the scenes in question. “This letter is to put an end to this story because a lot has been said in my place, but not me,” said Gohourou. ”Catherine offered me understudies and even an intimacy coach and I refused,” she said, adding that the production put her and co-star Harold Orsoni “completely at ease”.

Polyadès said allegations of Corsini’s “tyranny, cold heart or cynicism” on set were “nonsense.” He added: “I have admiration for the director… I am simply outraged by the incredible malice that has suddenly fallen upon her.”

Industry reaction

The drama has sent a ripple effect through the film industry, with some defending Corsini’s artistic choices while others feel the inclusion in the official selection is a direct blow to preventing inappropriate behaviour on set.

France’s gender parity in cinema group the 50-50 Collective issued a statement saying they were “appalled” that the festival had included Homecoming in Competition amidst the ongoing investigations.

France’s directors’ guild the SRF, who are also behind Cannes sidebar Directors’ Fortnight, did not come to Corsini’s defense amidst the post-announcement brouhaha, leading Corsini to resign from the guild.

The Cannes film festival declined to comment on the letter.