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Russia 2003
Directed by
Andrey Zvyagintsev
106 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

The Return

Synopsis: Andrey (Vladimir Garin) and his younger brother Vanya (Ivan Dobronravov)live a fatherless existence until, 12 years after his departure, their father (Konstantin Lavronenko) suddenly reappears. Taking his sons on a supposed fishing trip, (with an ulterior motive which is never explained) the father becomes increasingly disciplinarian and violent. Andrey is desperate to bond with his father but Ivan is surly and defiant, culminating in a horrific and disturbing conclusion.

Shot for a mere $500,000 this hauntingly beautiful film has taken out several prestigious awards for its 39 year old first-time director, a former actor and TV director, including Best Film at the Venice Film Festival. It is not an easily accessible film, having a plot in which many secrets and motivations remain shrouded, and it invites endless analysis and attempts to read it symbolically and allegorically, particularly in relation to Russia's past and present. Some may wish to see it on a more surface level - the timeless tale of a son's need to bond with a father and at the same time to rebel against patriarchal authority. Yet others will immerse themselves in the breathtakingly beautiful cinematography by Mikhail Kritchman.

For me so much of this film is about its visual impact and the emotions it conjures up. From the opening shots, which are spare and angled, with young Vanya atop a huge tower scared to jump into a threatening lake, to a chase through the decrepit, peeling, drear streets we feel the sense of despair, fear and oppression. Many of the camera angles are about seeing things from the characters' perspectives - lines on the road from the car, views in a mirror, through binoculars or camera lenses. At the same time, juxtaposed with these very personal perspectives, are the many wider shots of the humans swamped by the broader picture and nature - tiny figures fishing on the end of a log in a vast lake - or walking through fields of waving grass, with the grass dominating the foreground.

This recurring emphasis on how things are seen is vital to the shocking concluding scene of this powerful film, which leaves one both disturbed and saddened.




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