Return, The (Russia; 105 min.)

directed by: Andrei Zvyagintsev
starring: Vladimir Garin; Ivan Dobronravov; Konstantin Lavronenko; Natalya Vdovina

Bruce says: "When a child asks the question, “Where did you come from,” it usually refers to a new arrival in the family that the stork has recently delivered. In The Return when Vanya, the younger of two brothers, asks “Where did you come from,” there is no new arrival. He is questioning where his father has been. He’s not just nosy, it’s the first time in memory that he has seen his father who has returned to the family without warning after a twelve year absence. Vanya is not at all happy about this surprise visit. In his mind family includes only mother, brother and grandmother.

"Andrey, the older brother, is more accepting of his father’s return perhaps because he actually remembers his father, perhaps because he has a temperament more suited to forgiveness. It is the disparate nature of the two brothers that sets up the narrative line of the film. The father is handsome, tough and seemingly detached from any paternal role. When he immediately suggests a three day trip, just for him and the boys it is clear this will be no joy ride. From the moment he barks his first orders to his sons, one wonders if he has this excursion confused with some sort of military reconnaissance.

"I feel that the appreciation of a film is often in inverse proportion to how much the viewer knows about it, at least for the first viewing After that it is the details one can focus on, not having to worry about paying attention to incidentals such as plot.

"This film is mostly about what happens on the trip and involves great sins of commission and omission. That’s all you need to know going into the theater.

"Zvyagintsev is a director totally in command of his subject matter – that includes everything: pace, dialogue, atmosphere, camera angles. His control is a joy to watch. He takes the most mundane moments and transforms them into visual poems and essays. His is an immense talent." 5 cats.


Chris says: "This incredible Russian film has received comparisons to that most revered of all Russian directors, Andrei Tarkovsky, only more accessible. That's a fair assessment, but director Andrei Zvyagintsev proves himself a strong filmmaker in its own right that all the Tarkovsky-like pauses in this work can't obscure. THE RETURN opens with flooded, voluminous shots of water, as a group of teenagers dive off a stone tower into a sea that seems eerily positioned at the absolute edge of the world (or in this case, the Gulf of Finland). 13 year-old Vanya, racked with a fear of heights, is afraid to jump in. Andrei, his older brother, coaxes him on, but eventually runs off with the other boys, leaving Vanya alone until his mother rescues him hours later. The tower, abandonment and rescue will all reverberate throughout the rest of the film.

"The following day, the boys arrive home to find their father has returned for the first time since leaving twelve years before. Cold and rigid, he nonetheless takes the boys on a three day camping/fishing trip that eventually leads them to a deserted island. As drenching rains periodically reappear, Vanya's surliness and suspicion is forever at odds with his father's tough exterior and unapproachability. With a subdued soundtrack consisting mostly of ambient noise, the film is beatific in its atmosphere yet very much a thriller, with a graceful, masterfully executed, genuinely surprising climax.

"The three leads are all good, especially Konstantin Lavronenko as the father, who, as Peter Keough already noted in his Phoenix review, rather resembles an evil George Clooney. His character is one of the trickiest I've seen in awhile. He could've been Robert Duvall in THE GREAT SANTINI, but he's more reserved/controlled, and as unlikable as he occasionally seems, you catch crucial glimpses of tenderness and love for the sons he hardly knows. The cinematography is also wonderful; moody and gorgeous without being too flashy. Catch this on the Coolidge's big screen while you can, and if you see it, think about what's in the box." 4.5 cats

Diane says: "I caught THE RETURN on Chris and Rick's recommendations. Ominous is my summary word for it. Every little thing that happened had me on edge--(Oh, no, they're going to leave the fishing rods behind! Why is he digging that hole?)--in a BLAIR WITCH kind of way, but of course much better. This will see cinematography and acting noms from me. You know, I didn't wonder for too long what was in the box; I was having angst about so many other things..."4 cats
Michael says: "Last night, Scot, Ellen and I caught the much-anticipated Brattle screening of THE RETURN. This Russian film caught rave reviews from the four Chlotrudis members who had already reviewed it on its first time through. Thank God for the Brattle who brought it back as a Recent Rave.

While I thoroughly enjoyed THE RETURN, I do think it sufferred a little from over-inflated expectations. Boiled down to its essence, it's a fairly simple story about two young brothers whose father returns after an absence of 12 years, then takes them on a mysterious fishing trip that at times seems like a descent into hell.

While I was occassionally annoyed while watching the film, I find that my enjoyment grows as time passes. My inner child was right there with younger brother Ivan, picked on by his friends, distrustful of his unreliable father, his anger lending him courage. Ivan Dobronravov is quite a remarkable find in his first film. His performance truly made the film for me. Without it, I'm not sure who strongly bound I would have been to that central character. I was with him all the way through.

As others have mentioned, the cinematography is very powerful. There will be many images from the film that will stay with me for quite a while. As Rick mentioned, the one that first springs to mind is Ivan huddled in a torrential downpour on a metal bridge, beautifully encapsulating the helpless isolation and frustrated rage that he feels. The brillant sunlight that so suddenly turns to heavy rain and fog and back again are used to marvelous effect.

There is a steady, underlying current of tension running through the entire film that takes its time fueling its slow burn. When the expected climax occurs (or something very similar), it is with an inevitability that is unavoidable, yet still manages to be shocking.

This is a powerful coming-of-age tale of two young boys who handle adversity in different ways. While there was something lacking that prevents this from being one of my favorite films of the year, it's definitely worth a couple of noms. 4 cats"

Rick says: "Chris stole my thunder with his review. I echo all his points and just want to second the recommendation that this film A) be seen, and B) be seen on the Coolidge Corner's large screen. Coming out of the theater I considered it to be among my favorite three films of the year so far, and now 24 hours later consider it to be without a doubt, the #1.

"What works best about this film is that it manages to be both viscerally thrilling and cerebrally challenging. It's mysterious, tense, and layered with fluctuating interpersonal relations and intra-personal psychological dynamics. There's also this great 'what's inside the box?' thing going on that's a fun analogy to the other issues presented and implied. I'm sure many of these metaphors and such went over my head so if anyone has any subtextual analysis or ideas of any sort they'd like to share I'd love to hear about it.

"What bests the aforementioned best thing about this best of films is the cinematography. Gloriously dark greens, blues and greys made the land and seascape look more beautiful and alluring than Northwest Russia probably is in real life. And I'm guessing those wonderful musical tones and ambient-like sounds probably don't spontaneously creep up on you there in real life either (it's really too bad, because then I'd definitely visit). I suppose this sight and sound style is derivative of Tarkovsky (I've only seen SOLARIS and the similarities were indeed similar). But as far as I'm concerned this Zvyagintsev guy can derive all he wants too, as it's brilliant stuff. Among many memorable scenes, I keep thinking about the younger boy sitting on a bridge in the pouring rain watching a truck in the distance slowly come closer. Simple but oh so mesmerizingly powerful. I want more. This kind of thing is why I love film." 4.5 cats and rising.