The film provokes an intriguing response from the viewer, at once mesmerized by a ponderous succession of stunning images distantly moving across your field of vision, while at the same time drawn into Sweeney's confessional narration. The segment shot in the Philippines is particularly hypnotic. Shot at 12 frames per second and developed at 24, the result is a pace which lulls the viewer into a false sense of ease and security. It is through this discontinuity between words and images, however, that the film over 40 minutes accrues its power – finally marrying sound and image in Ireland.
This is a personal film, in which Sweeney rejects and shackles of political theory and criticism and moves to understand her own diasporic existence and her production through violence. The film is unashamedly romantic as the narrator creates homogeneity over disparate cultures and uses those cultures to reflect on her own. Although the complexities of life in Brazil, the Philippines and Togo are alluded to her, her eye remains firmly that of a tourist passing through countries while never shedding the mantle of a first world traveller. She returns with stunning postcards that merely scratch at the surface of complex identities. But her commentaries on the culture of others are less telling than her interpretation of her own identity. She moves from abhorring the Troubles to feeling a sense of estrangement from them, and finally towards a celebration of her own identity as a survivor.
At a distance now from everyday life in Northern Ireland, she has become aware of the absurdity of the situation – the unnatural nature of the violence and the abnormality of being stopped between the North and Southby 'anonymous armed men with strange English accents.' In the end, the, Sweeney assumes the role of romantic traveller within her own country and chooses to regress beyond Troubles to an Irish identity suffused with the nostalgia of someone long gone to a country remembered through the sound of 'Gaelic in the Aran Isles' and the visual memory of 'dancing under freezing waterfalls in the middle of the Mourne mountains.'
Watching this film, I both admired and criticised Sweeney's vision. My strongest feeling, however, was one of pure recognition. Recognition of the kind of purist, nationalist vision that remains so important for so many Catholics in the North who identify, not with contemporary life in the Republic, but with a remembered, sometimes never experienced. Image of this country. While the film does espouse a humanist vision, a vision I now feel more critical of, it does reflect on this identity – the identity of rural Northern Ireland and of a culture which shares a landscape, but is estranged through time from its perceived home.
Coming Home is, finally, a courageous film which wears its nostalgia on its sleeve and speaks personally of the experience of so many Nationalists in the North. Anyone viewing it from outside that culture (which I do not) will understand more clearly the confusion that lies at the centre of this particular identity and will admire a director who purposely retains her distance from the political history and theory she knows only too well, to express herself without self-consciousness, or the safety net of critical distance.
Film Ireland 1994