Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Return (2003)

Sometimes some seemingly ordinary situations in the lives of common people can serve as premises of highly extraordinary films such as Andrei Zvyagintsev’s 2003 film, “The Return (Vozvrashcheniye)”.

Somewhere in a remote part of Russia, two boys, Andrei (Vladimir Garin) and his younger brother Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov) reside with their mother and granny. Everything seems fine and the brothers share a fine brotherly chemistry. The status quo is suddenly disturbed when the boys’ father (Konstantin Lavronenko) who’d been gone for an estimated period of 12 long years returns home. Where he had been and whence he had returned isn’t disclosed by their mother when they inquisitively question her. ”He just came back”, she replies and leaves it at that! The boys begin to wonder why he returned after that long a time and discuss all sorts of theories. They even dig up an old photograph of the whole family taken when Ivan was a baby to convince themselves that the man who has returned is indeed their father!

At (apparently) their mother’s request, the boys’ father takes them out on a fishing trip the next day. Now, considering that these kids have absolutely no emotional attachment (not surprisingly) whatsoever with this man who says he is their father, it becomes a pretty challenging task to suddenly obey him as he tries to exercise his right over them as a father would. The whole exercise seems to be clearly awkward for the father as well, who also doesn’t seem to exhibit any real connection with the kids. While the older Andrei tries his level best to adjust to his newly returned father’s whims, the younger Ivan takes a rebellious stand and refuses to comply with his father’s authoritative demeanor. 

Ivan’s attitude towards his father grows more negative as he begins to suspect his father may be involved in something and has returned only for selfish reasons! What starts off as a fun, adventurous fishing trip and a perfect means of bonding with a long absconding father, turns out to be an ultimate test of endurance that would change the brothers’ lives forever….. 

“The Return” manages to grip you from its very first frame. Each scene is intelligently written and drives home important facets of each character; right from that first scene in which some neighbourhood boys are showing off their guts by jumping in a nearby lake from a considerable height. Young Ivan who is scared of heights just sits there and cries as other kids call him “chicken” and move along. It is a pivotal scene, the importance of which, one will only realize later in the film.

There are moments of subtle brilliance all throughout the film like one scene in which, as the father parks his truck near a diner, he ogles at a couple of young ladies passing by through the rearview mirror. The look on Ivan’s face is priceless as he catches his father in the act. “The Return” is full of such fine moments and more which are best left for the viewer to find out. 

“The Return” succeeds with flying colours in the primary departments of Screenplay, Direction, Cinematography and Acting. It is amazing how effortlessly the events unfold on screen and how deftly director Andrei Zvyagintsev handles some of the most challenging scenes in the film. Ten on ten points go out to Mikhail Krichman for his brilliant cinematography. Behold how his camera lovingly captures some of the most picturesque shots of the rain-drenched Russian countryside with colours and clarity one can only dream of! Acting is bravura all throughout but the real hero of the film is the youngest actor Ivan Dobronravov who impresses the most with his outstanding performance. Watch the lad deliver an affecting performance with such ease, it is extremely difficult to even believe that a camera was there and he actually rehearsed all those scenes! 

“The Return” may end on a note that may be a tad underwhelming to some for its abruptness as some plot details are withheld and left for the viewer to interpret. But perhaps that is beyond the point. The scope of the film is only clear long after we reach the ending credits, and in the end, after some pondering, we realize that the conclusion is befitting indeed!

9/10 for this Russian gem. Films like “The Return” are hard to come by. Embrace it with open arms!


  1. Great review, Aditya. How'd you come across it?

  2. Thanks dude!
    I came across it when I was looking at a "similar films" list for one of the other films the name of which I don't remember right now....on IMDB!