The Return: A Belated Review

I recently saw the Russian movie called The Return, which is the big screen directorial debut for Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev. I thoroughly enjoyed The Return and found it to be a haunting and beautifully shot film that really sticks with you even after you are done watching it. So let’s dive a little bit more into why you should see this movie. The premise of the film is as follows: Two young Russian boys (Andrey and his younger brother Ivan) have been living without their father for 12 years. He disappeared for reasons that both of them do not know and their only caretakers have been their mother and grandmother . Suddenly, their father returns from his 12 years of abscene and decides to take the two boys on a fishing trip in the Northren Russian wilderness. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

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Well it’s not, and that is one of the greatest things about this film. Throughout the film our expectations are constantly turned around and thrown away. We’ve been conditioned to see this type of movie and expect certain things from the arcs of the characters. The Return does not fulfill really any of these expectations and instead delivers a better and more fulfilling plot. I don’t want to give away a whole lot of the plot since it relies heavily on mystery and discovery, but I will say that what seems like a relatively straight forward camping trip turns into a haunting and even disturbing study about the nature of relationships and how we cope with loss and discovery.

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The tone of this movie remains bleak throughout, and this is accomplished by the way the script is written and the characters interact with each other. The young Russian actors who betray the two boys are superb. I usually strongly dislike child actors but these two acted better than a lot of adult actors do. Andrey is easy going and trusting while Ivan is callow and cold. Ivan’s personality is probably the most unsettling thing about this film. The kid never smiles, he comes up with twisted plots, and stares intensely into the camera. I don’t want to call this a portrayal of insanity, but it is a haunting portrayal of emotional instability, and it comes from a kid.

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As for the script, it does a pretty good job developing the mystery and intensity of the story. Throughout the film, we only are given as much information as the kids are given. Therefore, we never know much about the father, what his motives are, or who he really is. He does creepy things. He has a mysterious past. He makes strange phone calls and knows a ton of fishermen. In a bold move, the script keeps key details of the father’s life from us even in the end. This is a movie that trades closure for mystery and confusion. It’s a fascinating way to write and delivers one of the key messages of this film: There are just some things that we will never understand about people. There are secrets that will never be revealed.

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I must also mention the cinematography of this film, because that is what made me watch it in the first place. The Return does a wonderful job capturing the vastness of Russia. When out in the countryside of Russia, you can see for miles and it always shocked me how big and open the country was. The forests of Russia have a certain bleak beauty and grandeur to them that is really hard to explain in words. Really, it can only be demonstrated in a visual medium, and The Return does this perfectly. Every shot seems to capture the vastness and beauty of the country. It is welcoming but also foreboding. Exciting, yet also dangerous. Although Zvyagintsev’s camera lingers a little too long on objects for my taste, this was a beautifully shot film.

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Well that’s about all that I have to say about this film. I highly recommend this film for all the reasons stated above. Enjoy the mystery of The Return and let me know your theories about the events and actions in the film.

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(PS- Because it is non-rated I’ll give a quick content review. There really isn’t anything bad in this film. Since the film was filmed in Russian it has English subtitles with a few swear words. There is some hitting and the film is dark and intense. It would probably pull a PG rating.)

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