Critics praise Colm Tóibín’s film debut ‘Return to Montauk’

Collaboration with Schlöndorff in running for Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival

Colm Tóibín: “Return to Montauk” tells of a novelist whose New York book promotion tour turns into a trip down memory lane. Photograph: Frank Miller

Colm Tóibín's screenwriting debut, Return to Montauk, has been given a warm welcome at the Berlin Film Festival.

The film, a collaboration with German director Volker Schlöndorff, is in competition for the Golden Bear prize on Sunday evening. It tells of a novelist whose New York book promotion tour turns into a trip down memory lane.

Inspired by, though not adapted from, a novel by Swiss author Max Frisch, this German-Irish co-production stars Sweden's Stellan Skarsgård, Germany's Nina Hoss and Ireland's Bronagh Gallagher.

The influential Variety magazine praised the film as a return to form for Schlöndorff, who is best known for his Oscar-winning adaption of Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum.


“The movie really is a soap opera – it’s just a good one, the kind of strolling-on-the-beach, twilight-of-love drama that could connect with audiences of a certain age,” wrote chief critic Owen Gleibermann.

‘Masterly direction’

Germany’s mass-market Bild tabloid was similarly impressed, calling the work an “egomaniac’s emotional rollercoaster ride”. Germany’s Tageszeitung said that what could have been a cliched tale of a randy, regretful old writer in Schlöndorff’s hands has turned into a “surprisingly insightful and touching” picture.

Berlin’s Radio Eins station praised how Schlöndorff’s “masterly direction” had resulted in a film that was “wonderfully sentimental, with scenery as big as the emotions”. The German capital’s influential Tagesspiegel, meanwhile, praised “powerful” performances from all the cast and the “old master’s care” of Schlöndorff.

It singled out for praise the wit of the script and dialogue, co-written by Tóibín, for displaying “much humorous-melancholic knowledge of human nature”.

Return to Montauk was the best-received of three German productions in competition for the Golden Bear, to be awarded on Sunday.

Meanwhile, director Aisling Walsh's Maudie was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics after screening in Berlin out of competition. Maudie, which stars Sally Hawkins as an arthritis-stricken folk artist hired as a cleaning lady by a recluse played by Ethan Hawke, has attracted praise ahead of Berlin.

“I am so excited to be working with [Sony],” said Walsh, who is best known for Song for a Raggy Boy but also for TV dramas such as Fingersmith and a feature-length episode of Wallander. “They have an amazing record of bringing indie films to the widest audience possible.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin