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"The Return," a breathtakingly austere masterpiece from the land that
gave us Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Tarkovsky, is one of the most
beautifully acted and directed films I have seen in years.
Astonishingly enough, this is the feature film debut for director
Andrei Zvyagintsev who demonstrates more of a mastery and command of
the medium in this his maiden effort than most directors do in a whole
body of work.
The film tells the tale of two brothers, Ivan and Andrei, who live with their mother and grandmother in a small coastal village in Russia. One day, totally unexpectedly, the boys' father returns after a twelve-year absence. In an effort to make up for lost time, the dad decides to take his sons on a fishing trip, but, almost immediately, he begins to demonstrate disturbing tendencies towards domination and abuse. He also appears to be up to some sort of nefarious business operations to which neither we nor the boys are entirely privy.
Every single moment of this film is a revelation. Zvyagintsev beautifully captures the opposite ways in which the boys react to and interact with their father. Andrei, the oldest, is so desperate for a father figure in his life that he is willing to overlook the often inexplicable, bizarre and possibly even dangerous behavior that this particular father exhibits. Ivan, on the other hand, embittered by years of absence and neglect, seethes with barely disguised rage at the man who now presumes to enter into their once happy lives and assert his authority. Of the two boys, he seems the most tuned into the kind of threat the father may pose to their welfare. Yet, towards the end of the story, the apparently latent love the boy feels for this man as his father does eventually rise to the surface. Through this intense interaction, the film emerges as a complex and profound study of what father and son relationships are really all about.
It is virtually impossible to put into words just how brilliantly the two young actors use their facial expressions to convey a wealth of meaning and emotion. As portrayed by Vladimir Garin, Andrey looks up to his father with a mixture of boyish pride and trembling awe, longing for the kind of male affirmation he has been deprived of all these years. He is desperate to please his father by proving to him that he can perform the acts of manhood that his dad keeps putting forth for him to do. As Ivan, Ivan Dobronravov spends most of his time glaring at the man, his mouth pursed in a tight unyielding grimace of resentment and hate. If I could give an award for the best performance by a child actor in movie history, these two youngsters would be high on my list of candidates. They are that amazing. Tragically, young Garin drowned two months prior to the release of the film, leaving his indelible mark behind in a performance that will never be forgotten by anyone privileged enough to witness it. Konstantin Lavronenko is equally impressive as the boy's mysterious father, beautifully underplaying the part of a man who can appear sane and rational on the surface but who is a seething cauldron of untapped emotions beneath. In fact, it is this constant threat of violence always on the verge of eruption that keeps us off balance and on edge throughout the entire picture.
The film's writers, Vladimir Moiseyenko and Aleksandr Novotosky, deserve special recognition for not allowing the plot to overwhelm the characters. For this is, first and foremost, a great character study. The scenarists have intentionally left the background of the father vague and sketchy, the better to enhance the sense of mystery and danger he represents. We never find out what nefarious activities he is involved with since that is of virtually no importance either to the children or to us. We are too engrossed in the relationships of the characters to care. In fact, there are a few hints towards the end of the film that this seemingly cold, uncaring man, for all his myriad faults, might actually just love his sons in his own strange way. The film leaves us with no easy answers or pat resolutions at the end. And this is how it should be. In fact, the scriptwriters even throw a few of Hitchcock's prized "MacGuffins" into the mix to keep us off balance (there is a scene in which some possibly stolen money sinks to the bottom of a lake that is highly reminiscent of what happens in "Psycho")..
Among other things, "The Return" represents one of the most impressive directorial debuts since Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows." Zvyagintsev's ability to draw great performances from his actors is only one of his many talents on display here. His lyrical use of composition, as well as the way in which he makes nature and weather an integral part of his drama help to draw us so deeply into this world that it takes the viewer literally hours to get fully back to his own existence again once the movie has ended. It reverberates for days afterwards. For as with any great film, "The Return" finds its way into the depths of one's soul and leaves the viewer a richer person for the experience.
Winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival (2003), "The Return" is a true work of art and one of the outstanding films of the decade so far. Whatever you do, don't miss this film.
I've seen many emotional films in my life, but I've never seen a film
with as much emotional intensity as Vozvrashcheniye. Even though I
don't know what it is like to have a distance or missing parent, I feel
I've suffered the same feelings that other children in this situation
The emotional content of the film continues if you watch the documentary on the making of the film included in the DVDs extras. This is no ordinary film; the feelings of the director, the cinematographer, the producer, and the personal experiences of each of the actors; words cannot describe the heart every single person put into this film. The insufficiency of words can also be described by the film itself -there isn't a heavy amount of dialogue, and there doesn't need to be (even though for the majority of the film you're screaming at the characters to say something!). To quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky (a Russian author): "there is immeasurably more left inside than what comes out in words."
This little review doesn't do justice to the film for the same reason. It is for this reason, this insufficiency that words have, why films (like this one) need to be created.
This film's power is revealed in the contrast between the events as
they play out and the questions generated by the enigmatic final
moments. It worked firstly as a mysterious, psychological drama, but
once the film had ended, it fit the definition of the term allegory
"The Return" makes a compelling case in favor of a poetically complex narrative over the expectations of 'The Hollywood Ending', where life eventually makes some kind of sense. The absence of a father can create a psychological 'presence' for the family, both seen and felt in the emotional interaction of the children. This complex, yet all too human condition is played out here, not as a narrative sleight of hand (The Sixth Sense) but rather as film poetry. Life's hardest truths sit like a stone in the mouth and won't be broken down easily. The characters in this film seem to be struggling with the absence of their father, but doing so with him present.
Visual cues which seem to lead to a metaphorical reading of what's happening are scattered throughout the film. For example, when the the boys see their sleeping father for the first time, he's viewed as Andrea Mantegna's "Dead Christ". The boys dash upstairs immediately afterwords to see if he looks like their father from an old photo. It seems that it's been loosely placed in an old book of engravings - on the page where the angel stays Abraham's hand before he sacrifices his son. Then there is the repeated image of the tower, seeming to both foreshadow and justify a fear of death for the youngest brother. And the mysterious journey to an island, the significance of which changes them all. These don't appear as kitsch cues (as in, "this image stands for this specific idea.") but appear as symbols whose meaning is more poetic than literal. They're tied to the story and can't be extracted. In true Tarkovskian form the filmmaker has bled his symbols of universal references and made them about the characters.
And there's the profoundly enigmatic manner of the father, existing for the two brothers in terms of curt preoccupation, edicts, veiled threats, detachment and blunt instruction. He could very well not be there. This causes both boys to respond to him with a mix of outrage, incredulity and bitterness.
Its a rare film, well worth seeing, if for no other reason than to marvel at the elegiac force of the story, the photography and at the performances that the director managed to coax from his actors. Both the boys in particular are astonishingly subtle. Highly recommended.
I had seen many good reviews for this film but was reluctant at first
to watch it as I thought it could be just one of the high art movies
which seem to be made for the development of cinematography alone
rather than enjoyment of the public and which I find hard to like even
though I appreciate them.
I watched "The Return" on DVD and I truly think it is special and is very absorbing as well as highly intelligent. I just wish I went to see it in the cinema on the big screen when I had a chance, because the film's cinematography is exceptional and nature views play as big part in the film as actors themselves do. I can close my eyes and still see the lakes, the forest, the vast empty spaces. The film left me feeling elated and clean.
I loved the structure of the film, so different to the usual Hollywood movie: nothing is explained and you can think for yourselves. Also I could not guess the ending.
The story is simple the father of two boys was absent for twelve years (he probably was in the prison camp - this is one of the places I can think of where you could be fed a poor diet of fish).The mother never told the boys the truth about him .The father comes back, wants his boys to accept him as the father figure and help them to learn how to survive in this world, but the misunderstanding and flaws in his character play their role.
Behind the story many spiritual (and other) layers hide.. One quote comes to mind that the prophets are never accepted by their own people. Or other layer - Russia itself is often viewed as a parent for its people . The country had a terrible 70-80 years recently when it really was a big prison camp. Now some of the Russian people feel estranged, unloved and sometimes betrayed by their country.
It is pity that because the film was in Russian language with English subtitles, some meaning was "lost in translation". I am of the Russian origin and noticed some discrepancies in the subtitles. But it must be very difficult to translate the film like this as there are not many words in it and they often have second-layer meaning.
The director Andrei Zvyagintsev must be really congratulated on such a great debut, a masterpiece accomplished on a very low budget.
The casting is absolutely perfect the child actors even look very much as their parents. Vanya looks like his mother, has a personality similar to her, is close to her, where Andrei looks like the father and has more of the father's tough personality. They both are exceptional actors, especially for their age. When you watch the film you don't see the acting, you see the real boys almost like they were filmed by a hidden camera.
Konstantin Lavronenko did a particular good job of depicting very complicated personality of the father. Everything is there pain of the wasted years, love for the boys deeply hidden, scars that some very hard life path left and all this behind the tough facade.
I give this movie 10/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In Russian director Andrey Zvyaginstev's The Return, a father
(Konstantin Lavronenko) revisits his family after an unexplained
absence of twelve years to take his teenage sons on a fishing trip.
Winner of the grand prize at the Venice Film Festival, The Return is a
film of rare beauty and authenticity about the complex bonds between a
father and his two sons and the need to discover one's self. First time
director Zvyaginstev leaves much unexplained and the film, while a
simple story on the surface, has suggestions of Greek mythology,
political allegory, and religious parable. The film takes place in
seven days, separated into segments. The two boys, Andrei (Vladimir
Garin), who is about 13, and Vanya (Ivan Dobronravov), a year or two
younger, are very different but have become attached to each other as a
result of their father's absence.
As the film opens, Vanya is being taunted by a group of friends and called "chicken" because he is afraid to climb up a huge tower and dive from a pier. When the boys return home, they are astonished to discover their father sleeping on a bed as if posing for a religious painting of the dead Christ. At dinner, the father (who is not named) is cold and uncommunicative except to tell the boys that they will go fishing the next morning and to pass out wine to everyone. To confirm their father's identity, the boys find an old photograph of their father in a Bible adjacent to a drawing of the scene of Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac. As they drive through the brooding, isolated Russian countryside on their way to a rendezvous at a remote island, the boys confront their most longed for expectations and also their most dreaded fears.
Andrei openly seeks his father's approval but Vanya is rebellious, convinced that he is being kidnapped by a gangster. It is clear that the boys need their father but are baffled by his tough love. On one occasion, the father makes Vanya get out of the car in a heavy rainstorm then drives off only to pick him up soaking wet a short time later. When the boys fail to return from fishing on time, he slaps Andrei so hard that Vanya steals his knife and threatens to kill him. Though the mood is ominous, the father's motives remain unclear. The puzzle is deepened when he uncovers a strong box dug up from the floor of an old ruined house on the island. Is this the payoff from a criminal activity? Is it a treasure the father had buried to give to his sons? One can only speculate.
In spite of their anxiety, the boys seem to grow under their father's tutelage and, when Vanya must climb a tower once again, it is clear how far he has come in his journey to adulthood. His father's inability to reach his sons on an emotional level, however, is the ingredient for a tragedy that takes the film to an unexpected conclusion. The director has said that the film is about "the metaphysical incarnation of the soul's movement from the Mother to the Father." I'm not sure exactly what that means but the film taps into the universal need to love and be cared for, and the hurt that results when the need to be sustained and protected is thwarted. The film rekindled sad memories for me of what it felt like to be a child trying to reach a cold and distant father. Together with knowing that the young actor who played Andrei died in a swimming accident after the film was completed, made The Return a moving and painful experience.
I wandered a bit from commenting movies. But I had to return. This movie made me do it. I didn't know anything about it. I only saw one trailer, that did its job perfectly. Everyone said it was incredible. I went and saw it. I found it more than incredible, staggering at least. It start as a pure, simple story and never wanders from its main character or its story not the slightest bit. Its jaw-breaking stripped-to-the-bone structure is a true novelty. Its young actors reveal themselves worthy of a standing ovation. It's difficult to find words to talk about this movie when it conveys such emotion by so few means. It's a fantastic, cold and often unbearable voyage through a deserted horizon, and one of the best movies of the year.
Andrei and Ivan have lived the vast majority of their lives with their
mother and grandmother. They find this dynamic changed when their
father turns up after 12 years absence. While Andrei seems happy with
this and keen to try and bond with his father, the younger Ivan is much
more stubborn and reluctant being suspicious of this man's motives.
The three go on a trip fishing for a few days, which turns into a much
longer time as the father has 'business'. As the journey continues Ivan
struggles with a father who is strict and strangely cruel.
On the back of awards and good reviews I was interested enough to go and watch this film at the cinema. Not being a great thinker myself, I usually find the 'you work it out' attitude of art-house films to be rather annoying and unfair and sadly there was an element of that with this film. The narrative is interesting enough to keep you in your seat but just don't expect anything to be explained; in fact there was not even enough information to even really interpret what was going on by the end of the film I was left with buckets of questions but hardly a single answer I wanted to ask the others in the cinema (all 4 of us) if they had 'got it' and if it was just me. However what saves this film from being another obscure arty movie is the delivery and the journey we are taken on. For all the unknowns the film is still gripping, even if it is slow at the same time. The journey is an interesting one and one that sees the characters grow in ways I was captivated by even if I didn't understand it all. I would have liked even a little bit of information by the end but I was content that I had witnesses a story and, like some things in life, you don't get all the facts I was just like the boys in the film, not knowing what was going on but involved in it nonetheless.
For a debut feature the direction from Zvyagintsev was excellent. It was full of great shots, great camera movement and wonderful use of surroundings to create a world where only these three are no other cars and barely any other people. For this same reason, praise should be endlessly heaped onto cinematographer Krichman as he makes everything look eerily beautiful and calm. The direction aids the minimal story and helped keep me interested, but the clincher for me were the performances. The only named characters are the two boys and, as such, the best performances come from them. Everyone knows that Garin died in an accident similar to the films opening tower-jumping scene and it casts a bit of a shadow over his performance to think that such a young man has died needlessly, but his performance here is still assured. He is keen but he stills allows us to see bits of doubt and fear in his eyes like a loyal dog coming back after a beating. Dobronravov gives a completely different performance that is much more showy and powerful and he totally surprised me such a strong and believable performance from so young a boy, he makes Hollywood's blockbuster preening child 'actors' appear to be the bland products that many of them are. Lavronenko's 'father' is a brooding beast who is hard to understand and he plays him fairly blankly. In a way this works but I did wonder if Lavronenko really understood his character either. Two or three others are in the film but, as the character names suggest, the film belongs to Krichman and the late Garin and they do not struggle with this responsibility.
Overall I will not claim to fully understand what the story was about or if it was an allegory for wider issues but the story is still engaging and emotional. The delivery is pretty much perfect although I imagine many audiences will be put off by both the lack of information and the slow pace.
The direction and cinematography are superb and the two boys in the lead put many other child actors to shame by the sheer confidence and ability they have in delivering such complex characters and emotions.
Russia has produced some of the finest filmmakers of the
century--Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Eisenstein, Grigory Kozintsev, and
Sergei Paradjanov. Hollywood (with the exception of Orson Welles,
Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Mallick) is dwarfed in the company of
these giants. Andrei Zvyagintsev follows in the footsteps of these
giants. The opening shots remind you of Tarkovsky and the bleak, barren
landscapes of Kozintsev. Yet "The Return" with all its finesse and
depth of subject matter does not hold a candle to the works of the four
aforementioned Soviet filmmakers. I was fortunate to see the film at
the Dubai film festival yesterday.
At the most easy level, the film can be interpreted as a chronicle of two children chronicling (with a help of a diary written by two male siblings) the events of a week with their father that facilitates their transformation from childhood to manhood metaphorically.
At a more complex level, the film can also be interpreted as a political film--with the father figure representing the strong Communist USSR and the death of that state. The two sons can be interpreted as one representing the section that accepted subjugation by the state and the other that rebelled against the state and demanded freedom and democracy. Today both kinds of former-USSR citizens yearn for the "FATHERland" of the past for different reasons.
At yet another level, the film provides the option of being interpreted in religious terms. Is the father figure any different from Christ coming to the world to help the world, and die in the process to be accepted by those who believe and don't believe. The film is scattered with clues that afford this interpretation: the fish symbol, the storm in the sea, the walking on water (by the boys on a stone below the water line), the week ends on Sunday (the day of Resurrection), the late return by the boys and the rebukes that follow (Jesus admonishing disciples for falling asleep), acceptance through death, the first sight of the father lying asleep resembling a crucified and dead Jesus, the last supper (at home), the baptism by rain, is Andrei (the elder boy) named after apostle Andrew, the leaves under the car as palm leaves for Jesus entry into Jerusalem... the list could go on. One reason is that most Russians are deeply religious individuals. At the same time one could argue that all these were coincidences and there is no Biblical reference in the film.
The brilliance of "The return" and the films of the other four Russian directors are outstanding because they too could be entertaining at different levels and thus appeal to you 50 to 80 years after they were made. Like Tarkovsky used Bach's Requiem in "Solyaris", Zvyagintsev also uses Mozart's Requiem in the "Return." The Requiems afford to highlight somber spirit of the tales and add divinity. The sudden rains, the sound of trains are not new--Tarkovsky used these effects in "Stalker." "The return" seems to hark back to Tarkovsky and Kozintsev's Christian Marxist imagery.
The film is in color--yet the colors are muted with only the red car standing out. Kozintsev refused to film "Hamlet" and "King Lear" in color; Tarkovsky also used muted colors and sepia tints often.
The most jarring fact is that the young actor who played the elder brother died in the very lake months after the film was made.
The stark, spartan, evocative film deserved the Golden Lion at Venice film festival awarded this year. By a coincidence, precisely 40 years ago Venice had honored Kozintsev's "Hamlet"! The brilliance of "The Return" is all pervasive--acting, direction, photography, editing, screenplay and yet the film is not as great as a Tarkovsky or a Kozintsev.
What child doesn't long for the parent he's never had, even with mom and dad
arguing in the next room? What boy hasn't endured a week that seemed to
encompass a lifetime? We begin with the wrenching ordeal of 8-year-old Ivan,
or Vanya (Ivan Dobronravov), who's watched by a gang of his mates while he
freezes with fear at the top of a wooden tower over a chilly swimming hole
and can't get down till his mom comes to fetch him. He has a fierce argument
with the other boys and his older brother, Andrey (Vladimir Garin) that
shows his strength of character. Vanya's intense will and need to prove his
courage will dominate the story, which depicts what happens when the boys'
dad (Konstantin Lavronenko) suddenly appears after an absence of 12 years
and takes the two boys on a fishing trip. They run back to the house, they
see their beautiful mom, and she says `Be quiet, your father is sleeping.'
That's how they learn he's reappeared. The shot of him looking like
Mantegna's `Dead Christ' as the boys peep into the bedroom where he lies
sleeping exemplifies the film's austere beauty.
We tolerate the mysterious father his cruelty never seems quite over the top because there's a perverted tenderness in his hardness with Ivan and Andrey. He wants to make up for lost time: he wants to shape them in these few days; wants to help them become men. He's always a nurturer and teacher as well as a demanding brute. The mystery that surrounds the man evokes the gap between all children and adults. They boys aren't even sure he's their real father, but their mother says so. The bond between the two boys has become the more intense in the absence of a father and the scene in their bedroom the first night when they talk excitedly about the day ahead is as vivid, beautifully photographed, and superbly acted as all the rest. The expressiveness of the two boys' faces is beyond wonderful.
This stunning debut features exceptional performances by the talented young actors, brilliant storytelling in a fable-like tale that's as resonant as it is specific, and exquisite cinematography not quite like any one's ever seen before. There's something haunting about the sound track too the way the clear voices emerge from silence and blend with music. There's nothing in "The Return" that isn't fresh and compelling. It's unlikely that there are any more intense evocations of boyhood or relations with a father on film.
The lovely, cool physicality of the movie's images reinforces the sharp contrast between the winsome, cheerful Andrey and the dour, intense Ivan. Andrey seems to bond right away with their dad but it's Vanya who makes the underlying rules of their week together. Ivan always wants something, if only a meal or to be fishing, at a different time from the other two. He's a kvetch. But beyond that, his passion and discontent are terrifying. That big almost ghoulish angry face atop the little body looks like a man's and haunts us when Andrey's bright eyes and smile have faded from memory. Despite his hardness, their nameless father seems almost unformed next to Vanya. It's a battle of wills. Vanya refuses to eat when they finally get to a restaurant and his father won't let him eat later. Vanya complains about leaving a fishing place to drive on and his father dumps him at a bridge for hours where he sits huddled in freezing rain. It's an ordeal, and getting stuck in the mud is another struggle and battle of wills in which the father of course wins and saves them. Yet there are moments of sheer joy when the boys click with their father and delight in the new places and scenes that they view through binoculars and photograph with a 35-mm. camera. The trip ends at a deserted island where their father has a secret mission and little Vanya's torment leads to a disturbing finale.
The Return heralds the appearance of a gifted new filmmaker, perhaps a great one. At times it evokes such recent lonely, austere masterpieces as Bruno Dumont's `Vie de Jésus,' Van Sant's underrated `Gerry,' and Jim Jarmusch's `Dead Man.' But Zvyagintsev is Zvyagintsev and nobody else. There's an exciting new director on the world cinematic scene and we'd better learn how to get our tongues around this slippery Slavic name. (`The Return' won the grand prize -- the "Leone d'Oro" -- at the Venice Film Festival last year. It's not hard to see why.)
Two pre-teen boys are shocked when their father returns home to them and their mother, after being inexplicably away for 12 years. He takes them on a road trip the next day. If you've seen the incredible but spoiling trailer for this movie, you know what happens in the last 10 minutes. Apart from the frustrating promotional trailer, this movie is exceptional and is one of the most strikingly beautiful films I've seen in a long time. The child actors are so incredible it is almost discomforting. The cinematography is simply breathtaking. "The Return" would make for a perfect double feature with the equally gorgeous and disturbing Italian film "I'm Not Scared" (aka "Io non ho paura"). Both films explore the fear and courage that results when children are suddenly faced with unknown horrors of the adult world. My Rating: 9/10.
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