Returning to Reims – Cannes 2021 review


Depicting the complex fabric of society is never an easy task. In his latest film Returning to Reims, filmmaker Jean-Gabriel Périot attempts to coalesce over 80 years of history to tell the story of France’s working class, how the personal became the political and various societal ills. No mean feat.

Taking structure from Didier Eribon’s autobiographical novel Returning to Reims, on which it is based, the result is, if not compelling, then gently spellbinding. The pace and energy of the film reaches an emotional peak at the end, with rousing footage of current protests in France, implying the regenerative nature of insurrection. The beauty of this film is to be found in the erudite accompaniment of Eribon’s writing, voiced by Adèle Haenel (Céline Sciamma’s leading lady) with hypnotically compelling results. Plain joy is also to be found in the extensive archival footage, which help to humanise the grander themes of exploitation and injustice that abound.

The film is split into two ‘moments’ and an epilogue, with the second ‘moment’ deviating somewhat from the rich personal history depicted by Eribon. It recounts the political in-fighting and missteps that led to France’s present political climate, thus aligning itself more with historical documentary than personal narrative and losing some of its charm along the way.

It is in the moments of private beauty that this film flourishes – shots of weary housewives lamenting the death of socialism, and oblivious children wheeling around municipal estates. This is where the inherent poetry lives and it is this that the audience will recall, long after watching.


Lydia Rostant
One room with a view
July 15, 2021