Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Return (2003) Film Review
Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald
The Return deals with the social microcosm of two teenage brothers, in that they meet their father for the first time after a 12 year absence. His parental deficiency is not explained, and the man's features are far from welcoming. Note the opening meal with the complete family, especially the structure of editing, criss-crossing the participants for purposes of alienation and the brothers' union. In particular, the Father's harsh eyes and self-contained threatening demenor far from engage the two. He invites them on a road trip to an unexplained destination, to which they only barely accept.
This is the catalyst of a film which captures the attention, and refuses to let go. A coming-of-age story which is wholly original. We are never quite certain what the Father is up to with the boys. His lack of experience with children is evident, with his inability to coax his sons (quite understandably, it has to be said) into giving him his expected due.
The teenage boys are outstanding, with the young Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov) quickly gaining the audience's sympathies with his stubborn refusal to follow his father blindly, while showing his emotional immaturity. The scene where Father looks at an attractive woman through the mirrors of the car, slowly moving right to left in the camera's gaze, between Ivan and his Father. His face reflects that of mild hatred, in that Father prefers a stranger to his mother. A thief of lives and wills. Dobronravov's performance is wise beyond his years.
All colour is leached from the film, with purpose and intent of denying us familiar warmth, aside from rare moments of pleasure with the boys. The recurrent themes of water, constant movement (either through memorable sequences of running in terror or rage, equally memorable scenes by boat, and on the road), and facing fears, enhances the menace of the situations. Eventually, something happens that leaves the boys alone, and the means of how they deal with their loss is one of the movie's strongest single acts. Indeed, the film is far from about their Father's purpose, but what the brothers do and feel with one another. From the vertiginous bullying opening, the brothers gradually bond under the impending icy threat.
Most Russian films I have seen have been harsh and difficult. Tarkovsky, in particular has an oblique, confounding means to his cinematic actions. The film's look is that of a string of coarse decay throughout. Andrei Zvyagintsev delivers an outstanding debut, both emotionally draining, and full of menace. This is one of the year's best films.Reviewed on: 04 May 2005