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    The Return

    Murky but deep

    The Russian suspense story "The Return," about a father who reappears after 12 years away to take his suspicious sons on a mysterious trip, combines so many layers of intrigue that you don't mind how much is left unexplained.


    "The Return" is kind of like a dinner guest who's so interesting that you're willing to invite him over even though you know he's going to show up without his pants on.

    Original title: Vozvrashcheniye.
    Directed by: Andrei Zvyagintsev.
    Written by: Vladimir Moiseyenko, Aleksandr Novototsky.
    Cast: Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov, Konstantin Lavronenko, Natalya Vdovina, Galina Petrova.
    Cinematography: Mikhail Krichman.
    In Russian with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    That is to say, it's a suspense story that violates the rules of polite storytelling — and yet it's so well done that you can't take your eyes off it. Threads of a mystery are woven through this strange, wonderful Russian tale, and so many are left unexplained that we have a right to feel absolutely frustrated by the end. But at the same time, the movie is transfixing from start to end. You feel you've had a glimpse of greatness.

    The story starts with two fatherless brothers in rural northwest Russia — on the day their father mysteriously reappears. After 12 years away, he has come to spend the night with his wife and then take the boys — who have no memory of him and even suspect he's an impostor — on a fishing trip.

    The Return  
    Not for a moment do we believe this is an ordinary fishing trip. Something is going on beneath the surface whose outlines are barely apparent. The father is carrying out some kind of business under the cover of a family fishing trip — which, he warns the boys, must be done within three days. "Do you want me to disappear for another 12 years?" he taunts when they question him about it.

    Andrei — the older brother, who has learned to fit in with the boys in the neighborhood, partly by joining in the taunting of younger brother Ivan — laps up his dad's attention. Ivan — maybe 10 years old, much softer looking, and never manly enough for his father — remains aloof and suspicious. Huddled in a tent on the first night of their outing, Andrei calls Ivan's wild suspicions stupid. "Wait until he gets his knife out in the middle of the forest," Ivan answers. "Then we'll see who's stupid." One of the many things to ponder about this story is the difference between the two boys — will the alienation that makes Ivan an outcast in the world of schoolboys be what saves them in the harsh world of their dad?

      The Return
    You see everything that happens on the surface, and that's a stunning enough story by itself, but much of the underlying story is unseen, left to your speculation. Clues are strewn in your path — phone calls made, hints dropped, people visited, a mysterious box unearthed — and you can give them any explanation from the most innocent to the most sinister. The sense of danger hangs over every moment; on the other hand, the dad may be telling the truth when he says the boys' mom just wanted him to come see them more often. It's frustrating and tantalizing at the same time.

    Still, as unresolved a thriller as "The Return" may be, it still works on many levels — as a drama, a mystery, a psychological portrait, even a beautifully filmed ode to life in a deeply picturesque part of the world. Everything from the sky to the trees to the people to the water takes on shades of navy blue, forest green and battleship gray (reminiscent of Oregon, Maine or coastal Canada), matching the dark, seductive mood of the film. View the film as a piece of art, a Hitchcockian thriller, a Lynchian non-sequitur, or a double coming-of-age story — but don't miss it. Different people will see different films in "The Return," but all of these films will tug at the heart and the mind in some way.

    MARCH 12, 2004

    Reader comments on The Return:

  • The Return   from Susan Sp, Apr 28, 2004
  • Re: The Return   from Mary, Jun 1, 2004
  • Re: The Return   from Susan, Jun 29, 2004
  • Re: The Return   from anna, Jan 9, 2005
  • Re: The Return   from Jo, Feb 13, 2008
  • About "The Return"   from J. Stratman, May 21, 2004
  • divine move   from Shane, Jul 8, 2008
  • Stupid   from Joko, Jun 24, 2004
  • Re: Stupid   from stupid?, Aug 11, 2004
  • Re: Stupid   from Eleonora, Mar 25, 2006
  • Re: Stupid   from Andrea, Nov 10, 2007
  • Return Movie   from Nicholas Quist, Jun 24, 2004
  • "The Return"   from Darien Clugh, Jul 12, 2004
  • Re: [no subject]   from Rob, Jan 17, 2005
  • What a movie   from nico, Jul 13, 2004
  • Re: What a movie   from Jim K, May 18, 2005
  • Re: What a movie   from mario, Nov 27, 2005
  • Re: What a movie   from Yuri, Mar 19, 2007
  • Re: What a movie   from david eberhardt, Sep 23, 2008
  • Better than Polanski's !   from Architect A1A1, Jul 18, 2004
  • Re: Better than Polanski's !   from Eleonora, Mar 25, 2006
  • Overhyped   from Leo, Jul 29, 2004
  • Re: Overhyped   from Lightning Al, Aug 18, 2004
  • Re: Overhyped   from Meandtracey, Jan 21, 2006
  • Re: Overhyped   from Eleonora, Mar 25, 2006
  • Superb!   from maggie, Jul 31, 2004
  • Wonderful   from Tin Tin, Aug 16, 2004
  • Re: Wonderful   from Farhan, Aug 19, 2004
  • The Return   from Isabella, Aug 24, 2004
  • Re: The Return   from ninja, Apr 13, 2010
  • The Returm   from SP Sher, Sep 6, 2004
  • "The Return"   from Timur, Sep 26, 2004
  • Re: [no subject]   from Ana, Jan 9, 2005
  • RETURN   from G. Stimlinson, Oct 1, 2004
  • Re: RETURN   from Bob, Nov 24, 2004
  • [no subject]   from d, Nov 24, 2004
  • Visszatérés   from Chensia, Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: Visszatérés   from Jay_beez, Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: Visszatérés   from jay_beez, Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: Visszatérés   from George Holt, Feb 17, 2005
  • Symbolism   from Barb, Nov 25, 2004
  • Re: Symbolism   from Ed, Jan 16, 2005
  • Re: Symbolism   from Jim, Feb 11, 2010
  • Re: Symbolism   from David, Apr 14, 2005
  • Re: Symbolism   from Lucy, May 11, 2005
  • [no subject]   from Nazeem beegum, Dec 11, 2004
  • It's a go movie   from Patrik Kallbrandt, Jan 23, 2005
  • still pondering   from Karen, Jan 26, 2005
  • Re: still pondering   from Galya, Feb 23, 2005
  • Beautiful!   from Shawn Marie, Feb 1, 2005
  • The real tragedy   from Galya, Feb 23, 2005
  • Re: The real tragedy   from milos, Sep 19, 2005
  • The music   from gino, Apr 24, 2005
  • wonderful movie   from Melissa Ann, May 26, 2005
  • death of the actor   from marinko, Oct 12, 2005
  • Re: death of the actor   from Irina, Mar 20, 2006
  • AGGGHHHH   from Martin C, Jun 26, 2006
  • Did you notice?   from MiG, Oct 30, 2006
  • Re: Did you notice?   from Shane, Jul 8, 2008
  • the return   from david, Jan 8, 2007
  • Re: the return   from Shah, Aug 25, 2007
  • [no subject]   from kristina, Oct 27, 2007
  • [no subject]   from , Dec 15, 2007
  • vanishing substance   from s kannan, Mar 27, 2008
  • Re: vanishing substance   from Shane, Jul 8, 2008
  • The Return - Surprising   from Chayka, Aug 19, 2008
  • a good initial review   from dave eberhardt, Sep 23, 2008
  • reviewer did a good job   from dave eberhardt, Sep 23, 2008
  • Sublime   from Francesca, Nov 6, 2008
  • photos   from andres, Apr 15, 2009
  • "The Return"   from Arthur, Dec 15, 2009
  • Reurn   from Laurent B.K. Mgbango, Sep 13, 2011
  • Myster   from Richard Sogliuzzo, Jan 18, 2012

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