Two brothers living in the Russian hinterlands, twelve-year-old Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov) and the teenage Andrei (Vladimir Garin) have few memories of their father, who disappeared 12 years earlier. Suddenly, he reappears without explanation and offers to take them away on a camping trip. However, his treatment of them is brutal and abrupt, and Ivan in particular grows increasingly resentful.
Review by Jake Wilson:
As generic as its title, Andrey Zvyaginsev's The Return could equally have been called "The Journey", "The Mysterious Stranger" or, most appropriately of all, "The Father". The premise could be politely described as familiar: two young boys and an unpredictable loner embark on a seemingly aimless journey though a chilly, semi-industrial landscape. Inevitably, the trio wind up on a desolate beach, where mounting tensions lead to a bleakly ambiguous conclusion.
In his first feature, Zvyaginsev succeeds in generating feelings of mystery and alienation through various orthodox techniques - using faded, high-contrast film stock, isolating the characters in long shots, stressing the sounds of rain and lapping water. But there's not much here that wasn't done better long ago by old-school European art filmmakers such as Antonioni, Angelopoulos and Tarkovsky.
This loyalty to tradition is of a piece with the film's view of the nameless patriarch played by Konstantin Lavronenko - a tight-lipped sociopath with a distinctly warped notion of parental responsibility. All but incapable of directly expressed emotion, he's like the sole citizen of a country where the only law is survival - at his best with practical tasks like preparing a boat for launch or stopping a car from sinking into the mud.
It's entertaining to imagine what Zen slapstick master Takeshi Kitano might have done with this character, but though the kids clown around now and then, Zvyaginsev's solemn vision is far from Kitano's absurdism. Obedience to the father is no laughing matter. Ultimately, the film asks to be seen as a conservative allegory rather than a realistic account of family tensions, however literal the nostalgia for "family values" displayed in a surprisingly moving coda. Beetle-browed and stone-faced, this father is a manifestation of primal force that must be acknowledged; a god from a forgotten religion, rather than an awkward guy trying to connect with his kids the only way he knows how.
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RETURN, THE (M)
CAST: Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov, Konstantin Lavronenko, Natalya Vdovina
PRODUCER: Dmitri Lesnevsky
DIRECTOR: Andrei Zvyagintsev
SCRIPT: Vladimir Moiseyenko, Aleksandr Novototsky
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mikhail Krichman
EDITOR: Vladimir Mogilevsky
MUSIC: Andrei Dergachyov
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Zhanna Pakhomova
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 1, 2004 (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane)