REVIEW: DVD Release: The Return























Film: The Return
Release date: 4th October 2004
Certificate: 12
Running time: 110 mins
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Starring: Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov, Konstantin Lavronenko, Natalia Vdovina
Genre: Drama
Studio: UGC
Format: DVD
Country: Russia

Arriving back at the place you departed from returns you to where you started your journey. But sometimes we have no choice in the matter. For the two boys, it is difficult to perceive whether the scenario presented in the film is one they would ever want to re-visit again.

One day, two bothers Ivan and Andrey, run home after fighting each other in the street. It is when they get home that they make a startling discovery: their father, estranged for many years, is now at home and asleep in bed.

In the coming days, Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov) and Andrey (Vladimir Garin) embark upon a trip with their father (Konstantin Lavronenko), primarily to give them a chance to fish together. Unsurprisingly, the boys are a little unsure of how to treat this man who has re- entered their life. The awkwardness soon gives way to tension, however, when the father’s unorthodox methods and harsh punishments are made apparent.

Lurking behind all of this is Ivan’s querying of whether the man is even their father at all…


The viewer accompanies the trio on their short yet eventful journey, which lasts for the duration of the film. And while we are invited to study the three characters, and the scenario in which their relationships both flower and fragment, there is an enigma that follows the story around incessantly. This enigmatic narrative unfolds slowly, patiently, always ensuring that the viewer is intrigued. The mystery over the validity of the father figure haunts the film, and is given extra weight due to the fact that these are doubts seen from the point-of-view of the two boys. The plot could also be viewed as a series of challenges for Ivan and Andrey, set- up by their father. As they encounter these obstacles, sinister traces emerge, which darken the tone and unsettle the audience.

Visually, The Return is utterly hypnotic. Andrey Zvyaginstev’s film possesses a distinctive appearance, achieved through exquisite framing, and a blue hue that pervades each shot in the film. Combined with the long takes that allow our minds and senses to dwell on certain sights and images in the film, the aesthetics of The Return reinforce the enigmatic nature of the narrative. An additional facet in Mikhail Krichman’s cinematography is the incorporation of landscapes. What is noticeable about this use of the landscapes in recurrent wide-shots is that it underlines the sense of loss and uncertainty, by depicting the characters as being overwhelmed in size by their surroundings. Furthermore, this cinematography is sometimes painful in that it conveys a rich form of beauty that cannot be fully enjoyed or embraced because of the inner turmoil shared between the trio of characters.

Yet, despite this lush presentation of the surrounding landscapes, it is still the characters and the story that dominate our attention. By combining the two, and still keeping a firm grasp on storytelling, tone and its examination of Andrey, Ivan and the father, Zvyaginstev exemplifies his skill as a filmmaker. Each character leaves an impression on the viewer: the father’s darkness and austerity; Andrey’s willingness to allow this man to become a father figure; and Ivan’s angst and cynicism, justified or not. The way in which the three individuals interact and co-exist in the different rural areas rivets the audience, showing bonds and divisions unfolding between them in a manner that is so understated it is almost entirely composed of silent gazes and telling and expressions. As a result of this quiet, ponderous tone, the viewer is more startled and convinced of the strength of feeling in the film when emotions do burst through the surface towards the end.

Eventually, the film depicts an implosion of the unusual, shaky unit created by Ivan, Andrey and the father figure. Anger, passion and resent all erupt into a breathtaking climax.

After the conclusion of the film, the audience is left with a morose impression, prompting us to question the meaning of what The Return has shown us. However, it should be recognised that one of the qualities about this film is that it provides much more than just a solemn viewing experience. It constructs a tale in which two boys are placed in a difficult situation that mutates into a wholly undesirable one. Given the closing shots, it could be suggested that this film is a lyrical, brooding coming-of-age/ ‘rites of passage’ drama, regardless of how clich├ęd it may sound. That said, The Return is perhaps too complicated and profound for that label. It is perhaps better viewed as rumination on childhood and growing up, illustrating how events and circumstances that we have little control over can manipulate and change the direction of our lives. It is that idea of life, and its habit of becoming swiftly relegated into memory (and how memories hover over and haunt us like ghosts), which lingers on the mind most prominently when the credits begin to roll.


Pretty and hazy like a daydream, yet unpredictable and agonising like a nightmare, The Return is a quiet and calming film on the surface that coils itself around you on the inside, refusing to let go. Not to be missed. BN


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