Reviewed by Kenneth Lyen
Rating: 4 stars out of 4.
I just watched "The Return", a first film by Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev.
It is about a father who returns home after an absence of 12 years. We are not told why he has been away, nor does his wife know. His two teenage sons do not know him, and only have a single old photograph to identify him. He takes the boys on a fishing trip, and they go to a deserted island.
The film is very brooding, and even though the scenery is beautiful, there is an underlying menace permeating every scene. The father is portrayed as neither good or bad, which makes the film all the more emotionally disturbing because there is no moral compass. However he is a strict disciplinarian, and has a tendency to use physical punishment, which sometimes is unintentionally excessive. He is unable to display any feelings of love to his children.
The younger boy is afraid of heights, and at the start of the film, it shows him afraid to jump off a tall structure into a lake, and his friends call him "chicken". This fear is played out again at the films gripping climax. He distrusts his father and refuses to call him "Dad". This irritates the father, as does his refusal to eat in the restaurant. On one occasion, when the boy insists on going fishing after the father has driven off, he is left behind all alone on a bridge, drenched in the rain. This is one of the many harrowing scenes in the film.
The older brother is more conventional and obeys his father, who tries to teach him about life, by giving him responsibilities. For example father asks him to summon a waitress to pay for the bill, and insists that he shouts for her rather than meekly go to the counter to pay.
The film carries a classical mythical quality to it. It is a relatively simple story line, but the film is imbued with powerful emotions. The three main characters are sharply etched out, and the conflicting relationships between them propel the story forward right up to its climax. The film keeps up the tension because the motives behind father are left unknown and mysterious. The fathers past is hinted at, but is largely unnecessary in the progression of the film. It is brilliantly constructed, and the despondent mood caught perfectly.
The film won the Golden Lion Award in the 2003 Venice International Film Festival. Sadly the elder boy drowned shortly after the filming.
I highly recommend the film.