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The Return
The Return
Actors: Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov, Konstantin Lavronenko, Natalya Vdovina, Yelizaveta Aleksandrova
Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
UR     2004     1hr 45min

Studio: Kino International Release Date: 10/19/2004 Run time: 106 minutes


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Movie Details

Actors: Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov, Konstantin Lavronenko, Natalya Vdovina, Yelizaveta Aleksandrova
Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev
Creators: Mikhail Krichman, Vladimir Mogilevsky, Andrew Colton, Dmitri Lesnevsky, Yelena Kovalyova, Aleksandr Novototsky, Vladimir Moiseyenko
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Family Life
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 10/19/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 45min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 16
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: Russian
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

A brilliant debut
Ranajoy Raychaudhuri | Washington, DC | 10/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

""The Return" is one of the best movies to have recently come out of Russia. Director Andrei Zvyagintsev, who has been compared to Tarkovsky by quite a few critics, does a wonderful job, and so do the three main actors Konstantin Lavronenko (the father) and Vladimir Garin and Ivan Dobronravov (as Andrey and Vanya, the sons).

The movie opens with the two brothers running. They play on the windy lakeshore with their friends, jumping off a tower into the dark water. The younger boy is too scared to jump, but too reluctant to climb down for fear of being branded a chicken. When his worried mom ultimately finds him, he declares that he would have died up there if she hadn't. Life flows by as usual. It changes when the brothers come back home one day and their mom whispers to them, "Be quiet, your father is sleeping". Their father (with suggested links to the Russian mafia) had not been home in the last twelve years and their only recollections about him are from an old black and white photograph. He plans a weeklong fishing trip with the kids to get to know them again. He is a stranger to them, and in contrast to their mother, is someone who doesn't tolerate childhood tantrums and sulking and wants them to grow up and learn to deal with life the hard way. The younger boy has a miserable time, while the elder one is torn between suspicion and the desire to bond with his father. They eventually start out for an island and when the boat's motor splutters and stops, their dad makes them row. Exhausted, they reach the island ... it is here under the grey skies that the story reaches its unexpected climax.

Throughout the movie the atmosphere is gloomy and the dialogue is sparse. The movie was shot in the Siberian pine forests near the border of Russia and Finland, and the overcast sky and the drizzle work to complement the sombre moods of the characters. A lot of what the audience carries away from the movie are only suggested and never explicitly mentioned. At the end of it, we realize that we know hardly anything about the characters that we had been following for the past 105 minutes other than watching their emotions at play. All these work together to transform this thriller into an unsettling psychological study seeped in Russian mysticism.
One of the best films of the decade
Roland E. Zwick | Valencia, Ca USA | 02/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

""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.

Fathers and sons . . .
Ronald Scheer | Los Angeles | 11/10/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Imagine Bergman with a touch of Hitchcock or Chabrol. In this award-winning film about a father and two young sons on a fishing trip after twelve years of separation, there is the bleakness and moral ambiguity of Bergman's world, where people live isolated lives, often on remote islands. Meanwhile, there's the creepy uncertainty that permeates the works of the masters of suspense. In its stark focus on three characters traveling alone together, it's also reminiscent of Polanski's early film, "Knife in the Water."

Visually the film is striking with its slow but persistent camera movement and the washed out color that reduces some scenes to monochrome. Meanwhile, the soundtrack music is spare and eerie. Most striking of all are the performances, as the taciturn and vaguely malevolent father interacts in unexpected ways with the two boys, who regard him with varying degrees of trust and distrust.

At some level, it's a film about fathers and sons and the distance between them as the immaturity, emotions, fears and physical weakness of boys are confronted by the uncompromising expectations of hardened adult males, who have shed any vestige of their own boyhoods as something to be scorned. And we keep watching the man for signs of his true character as he responds to the two boys, one of them willing to accept the man at his word, the other deeply suspicious and openly rebellious.

Based on a simple premise, it's a brilliantly conceived story that holds the viewer to the end, leaving us finally with unanswered questions that provoke reflection on the loss of innocence and the uneasy relationship between family and self. The DVD includes a one-hour making-of documentary that reveals many of the challenges of directing and shooting the film. Not least interesting is its commentary on working with the film's young actors."
A spectacular debut with layer after layer of depth
Andy Orrock | Dallas, TX | 12/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Andrei Zvyagintsev's 2003 debut, 'Vozvrashcheniye' ('The Return') throws into sharp contrast much of the dreck that has come out of Hollywood for 200 times the cost of Zvyagintsev's reported $500,000 budget. This is an incredible film with layer upon layer of meaning and interpretation. The writers, the cinematographer and director demonstrate nothing short of genius here.

It's tough to even begin to talk about the movie without revealing too much. A father - gone for 12 years - returns. Prison? Mafia? These are the prosaic reasons my wife and I came up with. A 63-minute documentatary on the DVD gives you some insight into the shoot, the funding, how the project came together, etc. But the essence of the film itself - the script, the story concept, its staging - remains inscrutable and opaque. But after seeing the viewer commentary posted on IMDB, I realized that my understanding of the film had only scratched the surface...there are overtly religious overtones at play here (including one spot-on restaging of Andrea Mantegna's "The Dead Christ"), some possible commentary about the last days of Communism vs. the 'new' Russia, and one further interpretation about the brothers and their diary that completely turned the movie on its head and - upon further review and thinking - I now see as a brilliant revelation. Again: it's genius that Zvyagintsev and crew have layered all this in and have us all talking and interpreting and re-thinking.

I had come here with the intention of waxing poetic about the acting skills of 'younger son' Ivan, as played masterfully by Ivan Dobronravov. But nothing I say is going to top the previous reviewer's comment that he makes Haley Joel Osmont (in 'The Sixth Sense') look like the red-headed kid from Different Strokes. Now, that's a brilliant way to state it. Touché, sir!

Tragically, this will be Vladimir Garin's (elder son Andrey) only film. He drowned shortly after the filming completed and before the movie hit the big screen in art houses here in mid-2004. He wasn't as strong an actor as young Dobronravov, but towards the end of the film, you can feel him gaining confidence. The filmmakers even make note of the fact that by the end Garin was leading them. A real tragedy."