Directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev, starring Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov, Konstantin Lavronenko and Natalya Vdovina.
'The Return' is a confident and assured feature film debut from Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev. A father reappears in the lives of the two sons that he has not seen for a dozen years and, over the course of a week, sets an inexorable train of events in motion. It's a story that is simple yet, in the way it is handled by Zvyagintsev, becomes mythical.
Opening on a narrow spit of land reaching into the sea, a group of boys dare each other to jump into the dark water from a high tower. Ivan (Dobronravov) is frozen, cannot jump nor climb down despite taunting from his peers and older brother Andrey (Garin). The conflict between the brothers is quickly forgotten when they discover that their father (Lavronenko, looking like a dangerous George Clooney) has unexpectedly returned home. He announces that he will take the boys on a fishing trip and they leave the grim urban surroundings of their small town for a trip in a rural Russia that becomes more and more threatening.
Andrey is desperate for his father's aprobation, hopeful for the future, while Ivan is suspicious and fearful as the ill-matched trio trace an erratic path towards the terrible climax on a remote and desolate island. A tacitrun and mysterious man, their father's attempts at discipline are unpredictable, inconsistent and sometimes shocking as he attempts to bridge the gap of 12 years and turn his two boys into men. But secretive phonecalls and odd meetings reveal that the fishing trip is a cover for other nefarious activites.
Zvyagintsev lets the story unfold slowly and gracefully with a minimum of dialogue and explication yet still manages to ratchet up the tension between characters. Like Ivan, the audience would like to know why the father has returned to his family, what he wants from his sons and what's going on. But Zvyagintsev gives few answers, being content instead to let the camera linger over majestic sunsets and scenery as well as smaller, more telling details. In this, his work has parallels with the films of Terrence Malick and, like that director's 'The Thin Red Line', is richly rewarding when approached with patience.
'The Return' is a journey from innocence to experience as the brothers leave their mother's enfolding arms and travel to the harder, crueller world of their father. It's a bold move by Andrei Zvyagintsev and one that bodes well for the future of Russian film.