Identity is free-floating. We are at times defined by our gender, race, profession, political affiliation, or part within the family, and still, at other times, none of these represent us. In addition to those identity markers, we can ask what role nationality, setting, or notions of home play in shaping our identity. This question of home as ab identity marker hovers over director Pedro Collantes’s full-length debut, The Art of Return (El Arte de Volver). It is a relevant question in a country like Spain.
Spain’s economic woes have forced many young people to leave and find work abroad. This phenomenon has left several young Spaniards with a universal conundrum: Does your adopted home irrevocably change who you are, or does your hometown leave enough traces which allow you, upon your return, to reconnect with it and those you left behind?
“…it appears [Noémi] may stay in Madrid if she gets the leading role.“
The film opens with Noémi (Macarena García) in a Madrid waiting room, earbuds on, in the zone preparing to audition for the lead role in a television series titled El Arte de Volver (which is the original Spanish-language title of the film). Another actress, Sara (Lucía Juárez), seems to recognize Noémi. By way of their conversation, we piece together that Noémi moved to New York. But it remains unclear as to why she is back in Madrid. Is it because she really wants the leading role in this television series, or is she merely visiting family? Does she want to move back to Madrid permanently? Is she unhappy with her life in New York?
The reason we are confused is that Noémi herself is uncertain. She is not thrilled about the television series, but it appears she may stay in Madrid if she gets the leading role. Is Noémi’s auditioning for the role a sort of dipping of her toes into her past life in Madrid? Again, we are as uncertain as she is. The Art of Return is not trying to confuse us; in fact, it works as a narrative because it captures what it feels like to be undecided.
"…we realize how mercurial and fleeting all of it is."