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Film Review Archive


The Return
Reviewed by Dennis Morton
Aired 5/4 and 5/5, 2004

In case you’re tinkering with the radio dial, let me say quickly that "The Return" is a great movie and you should rush to see it. It’s playing at The Nickelodeon in downtown Santa Cruz, and if you don’t see it this week, you’ll have to wait for the video.

Like so many fine movies made on small or moderate budgets, this movie doesn’t have ten million bucks for promotional purposes. It probably didn’t cost half that much to make this artistically huge film. So, this is a movie that will achieve its renown over time. But, if you can, see it on the big screen, this week, because part of its brilliance is the spare but creative cinematography of a starkly beautiful landscape, some of which will be lost on the small screen.

"The Return" is a Russian film set vaguely in the present. It wears many hats. It could be described as a road trip, a psychological thriller, a mystery, a coming of age story or a
film about the unending complexity of the relationship between fathers and sons.

Director, Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose name I will not attempt to pronounce again, introduces us first to two brothers, who are probably about thirteen and fifteen years old.

We learn, in a remarkable opening scene, that the youngest brother, Vanya, is afraid of heights, and that he’s a very strong willed boy. And in the same scene, we learn that his brother, Andrey, like many an older brother, is more eager to appease and please. In a subsequent scene, Vanya is so upset at his older brother’s refusal to stand up for him that he attacks Andrey while their mates watch. Andrey’s solution is to challenge Vanya to a race back to their home. This is an opportunity for the camera to give us many glimpses of the shop worn port town they live in. Andrey’s logic is to burn off some of his brother’s passionate anger in the foot race. But we get the sense that Vanya would die before surrendering any of it. Breathlessly they arrive home at almost the same time. Before they can argue their cases to their mother, she tells them to be quiet because their father is sleeping.

This is big news, the biggest, because the father has been gone for twelve years, without ever having been in touch with his sons. They go to the bedroom door and look in. Then they race to the attic, flip through a book of biblical figures and find, nestled against a portrait of Abraham, about to slay his son, an old family photograph. Yes, that’s
definitely him, Vanya says.

And thus begins a reunion that unfolds over the course of a week. Vanya, the skeptic, Andrey, the older brother, who is eager to please, and the mysterious father set off on a fishing trip. What they catch, literally and metaphorically, I will not divulge.

I will say that the journey is intense, sometimes brutal, psychologically and physically, and always fascinating. If you like your drama tied up in a neat bundle, this isn’t your type of film. If you can tolerate ambiguity and unanswered questions, there’s a good chance you’ll love "The Return". The acting is uniformly wonderful. The writing is excellent and I can’t remember better camera work than this. If the script weren’t so good, I’d suggest you watch the movie with ear plugs.

I loved this film. I’ll probably return to "The Return" many times. I think you may well want to, also. Again, this film is playing at The Nickelodeon, in downtown Santa Cruz and will probably be gone by the weekend. I urge you not to miss it.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.