The Return

Spare and evocative, this Antonioni-esque rite-of-passage film revolves around the reappearance of a prodigal father and the repercussions of his reentry into the lives of his adolescent sons. Teenaged Andrey (Vladimir Garin, who drowned shortly after the film was completed) and his slightly younger brother, Vanya (Ivan Dobronravov), are being raised in...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Spare and evocative, this Antonioni-esque rite-of-passage film revolves around the reappearance of a prodigal father and the repercussions of his reentry into the lives of his adolescent sons. Teenaged Andrey (Vladimir Garin, who drowned shortly after the film was completed) and his slightly younger brother, Vanya (Ivan Dobronravov), are being raised in the Karelian region of Northern Russia by their mother (Natalya Vdovina) and grandmother (Galina Petrova); their father has been gone for 12 years. And then, without warning, he's back. Andrey and Vanya come home to their mother's warning that they need to be quiet — their father (Konstantin Lavronenko) is asleep. His mysterious, masculine presence shatters the household's balance; the boys are tangled in a knot of conflicting emotions — excitement, apprehension, defiance, confusion and resentment — while grandmother keeps her counsel and mother seems to be walking on eggshells. Father announces that he's taking his sons on a fishing trip, but once they're on the road, it's clear that he's on his own mission. Both boys admire their father's easy confidence, muscular physicality and ability to do things — pitch a tent, get the car out of mud, beat up a bully, make a fire — but are constantly on the receiving end of his impatience that they aren't equally capable. Andrey is determined to win his approval, while Vanya withdraws into sullen insolence. The close quarters exacerbate the simmering tensions; Andrey and Vanya simultaneously squabble and draw together, united by their uneasy relationship with this stranger who must be their father — would their mother have let them go with him if he weren't? — even if neither remembers him. Ultimately, it doesn't seem to matter whether they do exactly as father says or assert themselves; his volatile moods are ruled by their own rhythms. As they drive farther into the sparsely populated countryside, the boys take pictures, bicker and try to absorb their father's lessons. He makes guarded phone calls, buys an outboard motor and finally takes them by boat to a deserted island in Lake Lagoda, where the reunion plays out to a tragic end. Actor-turned-director Andrey Zvyagintsev's feature debut is haunted by an elusive past and suffused with dread about the future, and it's all suggestion without explanation. But the film never feels obscure or precious, and works equally well an eerie fable or a sharply observed family drama. (In Russian, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Spare and evocative, this Antonioni-esque rite-of-passage film revolves around the reappearance of a prodigal father and the repercussions of his reentry into the lives of his adolescent sons. Teenaged Andrey (Vladimir Garin, who drowned shortly after the… (more)

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