Sunday, January 16, 2011

Vozvrashchenie (The Return) (2003)

An appropriate subtitle for this cheerless film would be ‘road trip to nowhere with a militant father you haven’t seen in 12 years.The Return

Andrei (Vladimir Garin) and younger brother Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov) are surprised by the sudden reappearance of their father (Konstantin Lavronenko). He says little, and has no affect. The boys’ mother (Natalya Vdovina) and grandmother (Galina Petrova) pay him quiet deference but look worried. Just as suddenly, he announces the boys will accompany him on a road trip. They are elated at the prospect to create memories with a father they don’t know and for Ivan, a chance to go fishing. The boys have a picture of him. They use it to compare and determine if this stranger is indeed their dad. As they set off, it’s clear: The Father expects certain behavior from them; when they don’t satisfy his expectation, he reacts with force. Their ages aren’t stated—Andrei looks in his early teens. He’s under the spell of The Father and the idea of having him back. Young Ivan (12 or 13) is not so easily swayed and becomes his father’s antagonist. The Father is a dark version of McGuyver—rugged and able to take on the land and the elements with an eerie calm, ripe for an explosion.

The pessimistic landscape coupled with frequent downpours match the tension inside the car. When daddy’s sadism begins to escalate, so does Ivan’s anger. As the days press on, they camp, fish and drive deeper and deeper into the wilderness. Soon, a canoe replaces the car and they are on their way to a remote island. Their mental and physical stamina is taxed. Contempt has replaced Ivan’s trust.

The rain, the woods, the beaches and the expansive water become character. If the boys can survive their father, they still have the elements to challenge. There are unusual cinematic moments when Ivan looks directly at camera. It’s as if he’s connecting with the viewer, anyone who can provide him a reality check.

Some questions are never answered. Why was The Father gone for so long? Why does he take them on this voyage? You can formulate your own answers with clues provided. The foreshadowing tells you what’s coming but it’s a long disturbing road to the tragic end.

Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev

Country: Russia

Genre: Drama

Run time:  101 minutes

Scale: 3.5

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