Thursday, April 19, 2007


The Return is a visually sparse Russian coming-of-age story that is deceptively simple and subtly complex. The opening scene is a shot of several boys daring one another to jump off a high tower into the water below. He who does not jump will be branded a coward and a pig. The pressure of potential ostracization, even (or especially) from his own older brother, is enough to crack young Vanya. This bold opener signals a narrative which will plays with the fear and confusion of youth raw to the bone along the lines of Fran├žois Truffaut's 400 Blows and not the warm leavened nostalgia of something like Stand by Me. The story of a father returning to his young sons (13 and 15) after a dozen years absence (mom and gran are the role-models and caregivers) is played with an air of mystery and bewilderment. Vanya runs excitedly up stairs to find the only picture they have just to make sure it is him. The reason for their fathers return is as unfathomable as the reason he left - from the point of view of the boys. Most assuredly, every moment of this film is from the point of view of the boys. At first there is awe and surprise. Especially when, within 24 hours of being home, he tells the boys that the three of them are going on a fishing trip. Excitement quickly morphs into anger and petulance from Vanya, and loyalty and willful blindness from his older brother Andrey who none-to-subtly just wants to have a father figure in his life. This is because a seemingly innocent fishing trip slowly shifts into a 'now-is-the-time-to-become-men' trial by fire from Father.

The bonding language between fathers and sons can often be one of silences and rage. And the bonding of brothers can often be a mix of support, night-time confiding and fisticuffs. The opposite reactions of the boys as their father returns adds an extra element of friction. To further complicate matters, the father may have yet another agenda for the trip involving many phone call and a remote (deserted) island. The Return is told with a disciplined attention to detail in both the filming of lots of open natural spaces (oceans, rivers, fields) and confined man made ones (Sheds, Boats, Tents and Cars) as well as the intense musical cues and the sparse natural silences. With the collision of the intimate and the distant, the film communicates quite poetically that even if we have familiarity, love and constant proximity for our parents we will never really know them.

So accomplished (and burrowing) is the filmmaking, that it is hard to believe that this was a first film from Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev. In fact the wise people at the Venice Film Festival gave The Return the top prize in 2003 and justly so, it was one of the best films (worldwide) of that year.

If you are fascinated about the emotional language (or non-language) of men, then The Return is an experience not to be missed. Come out at 8pm Thursday Night (April 19) for drinks. Trailers and Showtime at 8:30.


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