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The Return

Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev

Russia| 2003. Subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 110 mins.


Constantly surprising and filled with beautiful images and performances, this remarkable Russian drama wins us over completely before it starts tightening the screws to make us squirm in our seats. Andrei and Ivan (Vladimir Garin and Ivan Dobronravov) are teen brothers in the throes of adolescence when their long-lost father (Konstantin Lavronenko) suddenly reappears after a 12-year absence. Their mother and grandmother seem to take it in their stride, but the boys don’t know what to make of this outsider who for them has only existed in ancient family photos. When he suggests a fishing trip, they hesitantly jump at the chance to get to know him. Once on the road, they discover he’s no better at being a dad than they are at being sons.
The older, more pliable Andrei adapts to this new reality fairly quickly, but the more nervous, thoughtful Ivan resists this stranger’s attempts to enter his life. It all comes to a peak when they end up camping on an isolated island. Mikhail Krichman’s cinematography is absolutely stunning, and director Andrei Zvyagintsev directs the film cleverly, drawing us into the story through the tentative boys’ very distinct personalities. Along with Ivan, we know Dad’s up to something and that tragedy may strike at any minute. But the facts are eerily enigmatic and untouchable. In this way, Zvyagintsev gets us right into the story; we feel a sense of foreboding along with the boys, but we’re so entranced by this mysterious man that we willingly dive in. And the result is devastatingly powerful.—Rich Cline/Shadows on the Wall.

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