Vozvrashchenie / The Return (2003)

Ivan: "If I climb down, they'll call me stupid and a chicken."
By Andrey Zvyagintsev
With Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov and Konstantin Lavronenko

The Return was recommended to me by IMDb after I watched Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003) last week. The premise of the movie was really interesting to me; I love movies in the wilderness and this in particular seemed to hold a complex mystery. I was also eager to watch a Russian movie as I haven't seen many of them.

The Return is the tale of two brothers: Andrei who is about 16 years old and his brother Ivan who is about 12 years old. They have quite distinct personalities and fight often but they get along well. One day, they fight in front of their friends and come back home running. When they arrive their mother tells them to be quiet because their father is asleep. They are both astounded: their father?

Their father is back, indeed, after twelve years without any news. There is no warm welcome back, and after a sober dinner, the father announces that he will take them on a trip for a few days. The trip begins and the tension starts to rise as the father has a very commanding and distant tone, barely ever talking about himself or his plans, only speaking to give out orders or ask whether the boys are hungry. Andrei takes the discipline quite well but Ivan has a hard time and his rebellious and emotional personality pushes him to defy his father often. The father puts the young boys through the test time and time again, while making mysterious phone calls and extending their journey because of some business trip, he tells them to get on the bus and go back home. Only to pick them back shortly after, the boys want to go fishing but when they catch some, their father doesn't want any fish. The father has a plan and he brings them to a deserted island with no explanation. There their triangular relationships will be put to the test.

What struck me at first was the bare, yet beautiful Russian land and lakes that we are taken through. We visit industrial towns next to green patch of land and mysterious inhabited lakes. The story holds a great deal of mystery as the character of the father remains silent about his intentions and his threatening demeanor prevents the boys from asking too many questions. When Ivan, in one of his rages bluntly asks what they are doing here, the father does not answer.

The three main characters are both brilliant and flawed in a very human way. Although taken for granted, the question of the real father's identity is always at the back of the viewer's mind. Is he the boys father? The mother said so, yet the mother seems just as mysterious. What is the father searching for on the island? We will never know and it probably doesn't matter because the film feels complete without knowing everything.

In its entirety the film is psychological and the fact that it is set in the wilderness simply adds to it. At times we feel really lost, as lost as the boys who don't know where they are, why they are there and with whom.

In terms of education and parenting, this movie is really puzzling. The rough treatment that the father uses seems to work on Andrei but only makes Ivan more rebellious and makes it harder for him to confide in Andrei. The brothers are at time very close in their psychological as well as physical pain, yet they clearly take it differently. Ivan, who is less of a daredevil than his brother when it comes to jumping from heights or fighting, turns out to defy his father straight-on, clueless about the consequences it can have. I think there is a great deal to be analyzed about those formative years in the life of a young man.

I liked: The acting. Complex, mysterious and psychological. Beautiful lakes.

I disliked: Cryptic. Tense atmosphere. No aftermath.

I can't think of another film that had that kind of brothers relationship while also exploring a trip with an estranged father. Truly original.


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