The Return

Dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev
2003
A startling debut from Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev,
“The Return” is a family drama stuctured and shot as suspense/mystery. Two boys, Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov) and the older Andrej (Vladimir Garin), are surprised to find their father (Konstantin Lavronenko), who they barely remember, has returned after a long absense. The father takes them on a long fishing/camping trip, where the two brothers come into conflict with his authortarian behavior. By the time they take a small motorboat out to a deserted island, Ivan begins to suspect his father isn’t who he says he is.
Zvyagintsev’s film is enthralling, and by turns surprising and inevitable in its fateful tale. Neither child is correct about their father, and the father isn’t an ogre. We get a sense that the father was stationed at this island during his time in the army, but what happened there we never find out. His strict nature feels like the only way he can understand relationships. We also see that, having been raised by an overprotective mother, the two kids are coddled and don’t understand their father’s behavior at all. Ivan feels persecuted.
Andrey spends a lot of his trip taking photos, and in his own silent protest (unlike Ivan’s stubborn nature) excludes his father from the frame. It’s understandable, but this tactic comes back at the end of the tale to devastating effect, as do several small plot points, such as failing to follow their father’s instructions. Zvyagintsev never hammers these points home, wisely, but drops a few red herrings.
Limited in release, most of us will have to wait for the DVD release, though the small screen may not do justice to the 24-hour sunlight the filmmakers shot in (up near the Finnish/Russian border).
(A side note: The elder of the child actors died not long after filming, drowning in the lake where most of “The Return” was filmed.)

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