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A film of rare beauty and authenticity
howard.schumann6 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
In Russian director Andrey Zvyaginstev's The Return, a father (Konstantin Lavronenko) revisits his family after an unexplained absence of twelve years to take his teenage sons on a fishing trip. Winner of the grand prize at the Venice Film Festival, The Return is a film of rare beauty and authenticity about the complex bonds between a father and his two sons and the need to discover one's self. First time director Zvyaginstev leaves much unexplained and the film, while a simple story on the surface, has suggestions of Greek mythology, political allegory, and religious parable. The film takes place in seven days, separated into segments. The two boys, Andrei (Vladimir Garin), who is about 13, and Vanya (Ivan Dobronravov), a year or two younger, are very different but have become attached to each other as a result of their father's absence.

As the film opens, Vanya is being taunted by a group of friends and called "chicken" because he is afraid to climb up a huge tower and dive from a pier. When the boys return home, they are astonished to discover their father sleeping on a bed as if posing for a religious painting of the dead Christ. At dinner, the father (who is not named) is cold and uncommunicative except to tell the boys that they will go fishing the next morning and to pass out wine to everyone. To confirm their father's identity, the boys find an old photograph of their father in a Bible adjacent to a drawing of the scene of Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac. As they drive through the brooding, isolated Russian countryside on their way to a rendezvous at a remote island, the boys confront their most longed for expectations and also their most dreaded fears.

Andrei openly seeks his father's approval but Vanya is rebellious, convinced that he is being kidnapped by a gangster. It is clear that the boys need their father but are baffled by his tough love. On one occasion, the father makes Vanya get out of the car in a heavy rainstorm then drives off only to pick him up soaking wet a short time later. When the boys fail to return from fishing on time, he slaps Andrei so hard that Vanya steals his knife and threatens to kill him. Though the mood is ominous, the father's motives remain unclear. The puzzle is deepened when he uncovers a strong box dug up from the floor of an old ruined house on the island. Is this the payoff from a criminal activity? Is it a treasure the father had buried to give to his sons? One can only speculate.

In spite of their anxiety, the boys seem to grow under their father's tutelage and, when Vanya must climb a tower once again, it is clear how far he has come in his journey to adulthood. His father's inability to reach his sons on an emotional level, however, is the ingredient for a tragedy that takes the film to an unexpected conclusion. The director has said that the film is about "the metaphysical incarnation of the soul's movement from the Mother to the Father." I'm not sure exactly what that means but the film taps into the universal need to love and be cared for, and the hurt that results when the need to be sustained and protected is thwarted. The film rekindled sad memories for me of what it felt like to be a child trying to reach a cold and distant father. Together with knowing that the young actor who played Andrei died in a swimming accident after the film was completed, made The Return a moving and painful experience.
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one of the best movies of the decade
Buddy-5121 February 2005
"The Return," a breathtakingly austere masterpiece from the land that gave us Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Tarkovsky, is one of the most beautifully acted and directed films I have seen in years. Astonishingly enough, this is the feature film debut for director Andrei Zvyagintsev who demonstrates more of a mastery and command of the medium in this his maiden effort than most directors do in a whole body of work.

The film tells the tale of two brothers, Ivan and Andrei, who live with their mother and grandmother in a small coastal village in Russia. One day, totally unexpectedly, the boys' father returns after a twelve-year absence. In an effort to make up for lost time, the dad decides to take his sons on a fishing trip, but, almost immediately, he begins to demonstrate disturbing tendencies towards domination and abuse. He also appears to be up to some sort of nefarious business operations to which neither we nor the boys are entirely privy.

Every single moment of this film is a revelation. Zvyagintsev beautifully captures the opposite ways in which the boys react to and interact with their father. Andrei, the oldest, is so desperate for a father figure in his life that he is willing to overlook the often inexplicable, bizarre and possibly even dangerous behavior that this particular father exhibits. Ivan, on the other hand, embittered by years of absence and neglect, seethes with barely disguised rage at the man who now presumes to enter into their once happy lives and assert his authority. Of the two boys, he seems the most tuned into the kind of threat the father may pose to their welfare. Yet, towards the end of the story, the apparently latent love the boy feels for this man as his father does eventually rise to the surface. Through this intense interaction, the film emerges as a complex and profound study of what father and son relationships are really all about.

It is virtually impossible to put into words just how brilliantly the two young actors use their facial expressions to convey a wealth of meaning and emotion. As portrayed by Vladimir Garin, Andrey looks up to his father with a mixture of boyish pride and trembling awe, longing for the kind of male affirmation he has been deprived of all these years. He is desperate to please his father by proving to him that he can perform the acts of manhood that his dad keeps putting forth for him to do. As Ivan, Ivan Dobronravov spends most of his time glaring at the man, his mouth pursed in a tight unyielding grimace of resentment and hate. If I could give an award for the best performance by a child actor in movie history, these two youngsters would be high on my list of candidates. They are that amazing. Tragically, young Garin drowned two months prior to the release of the film, leaving his indelible mark behind in a performance that will never be forgotten by anyone privileged enough to witness it. Konstantin Lavronenko is equally impressive as the boy's mysterious father, beautifully underplaying the part of a man who can appear sane and rational on the surface but who is a seething cauldron of untapped emotions beneath. In fact, it is this constant threat of violence always on the verge of eruption that keeps us off balance and on edge throughout the entire picture.

The film's writers, Vladimir Moiseyenko and Aleksandr Novotosky, deserve special recognition for not allowing the plot to overwhelm the characters. For this is, first and foremost, a great character study. The scenarists have intentionally left the background of the father vague and sketchy, the better to enhance the sense of mystery and danger he represents. We never find out what nefarious activities he is involved with since that is of virtually no importance either to the children or to us. We are too engrossed in the relationships of the characters to care. In fact, there are a few hints towards the end of the film that this seemingly cold, uncaring man, for all his myriad faults, might actually just love his sons in his own strange way. The film leaves us with no easy answers or pat resolutions at the end. And this is how it should be. In fact, the scriptwriters even throw a few of Hitchcock's prized "MacGuffins" into the mix to keep us off balance (there is a scene in which some possibly stolen money sinks to the bottom of a lake that is highly reminiscent of what happens in "Psycho")..

Among other things, "The Return" represents one of the most impressive directorial debuts since Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows." Zvyagintsev's ability to draw great performances from his actors is only one of his many talents on display here. His lyrical use of composition, as well as the way in which he makes nature and weather an integral part of his drama help to draw us so deeply into this world that it takes the viewer literally hours to get fully back to his own existence again once the movie has ended. It reverberates for days afterwards. For as with any great film, "The Return" finds its way into the depths of one's soul and leaves the viewer a richer person for the experience.

Winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival (2003), "The Return" is a true work of art and one of the outstanding films of the decade so far. Whatever you do, don't miss this film.
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Resonates long afterward
peedur7 December 2004
This film's power is revealed in the contrast between the events as they play out and the questions generated by the enigmatic final moments. It worked firstly as a mysterious, psychological drama, but once the film had ended, it fit the definition of the term allegory perfectly.

"The Return" makes a compelling case in favor of a poetically complex narrative over the expectations of 'The Hollywood Ending', where life eventually makes some kind of sense. The absence of a father can create a psychological 'presence' for the family, both seen and felt in the emotional interaction of the children. This complex, yet all too human condition is played out here, not as a narrative sleight of hand (The Sixth Sense) but rather as film poetry. Life's hardest truths sit like a stone in the mouth and won't be broken down easily. The characters in this film seem to be struggling with the absence of their father, but doing so with him present.

Visual cues which seem to lead to a metaphorical reading of what's happening are scattered throughout the film. For example, when the the boys see their sleeping father for the first time, he's viewed as Andrea Mantegna's "Dead Christ". The boys dash upstairs immediately afterwords to see if he looks like their father from an old photo. It seems that it's been loosely placed in an old book of engravings - on the page where the angel stays Abraham's hand before he sacrifices his son. Then there is the repeated image of the tower, seeming to both foreshadow and justify a fear of death for the youngest brother. And the mysterious journey to an island, the significance of which changes them all. These don't appear as kitsch cues (as in, "this image stands for this specific idea.") but appear as symbols whose meaning is more poetic than literal. They're tied to the story and can't be extracted. In true Tarkovskian form the filmmaker has bled his symbols of universal references and made them about the characters.

And there's the profoundly enigmatic manner of the father, existing for the two brothers in terms of curt preoccupation, edicts, veiled threats, detachment and blunt instruction. He could very well not be there. This causes both boys to respond to him with a mix of outrage, incredulity and bitterness.

Its a rare film, well worth seeing, if for no other reason than to marvel at the elegiac force of the story, the photography and at the performances that the director managed to coax from his actors. Both the boys in particular are astonishingly subtle. Highly recommended.
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A Film Only Russia Could Make
tuttifrutti0223 November 2004
I've seen many emotional films in my life, but I've never seen a film with as much emotional intensity as Vozvrashcheniye. Even though I don't know what it is like to have a distance or missing parent, I feel I've suffered the same feelings that other children in this situation must have.

The emotional content of the film continues if you watch the documentary on the making of the film included in the DVDs extras. This is no ordinary film; the feelings of the director, the cinematographer, the producer, and the personal experiences of each of the actors; words cannot describe the heart every single person put into this film. The insufficiency of words can also be described by the film itself -there isn't a heavy amount of dialogue, and there doesn't need to be (even though for the majority of the film you're screaming at the characters to say something!). To quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky (a Russian author): "there is immeasurably more left inside than what comes out in words."

This little review doesn't do justice to the film for the same reason. It is for this reason, this insufficiency that words have, why films (like this one) need to be created.
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Special in every way
Alexandra_Leaving13 January 2005
I had seen many good reviews for this film but was reluctant at first to watch it as I thought it could be just one of the high art movies which seem to be made for the development of cinematography alone rather than enjoyment of the public and which I find hard to like even though I appreciate them.

I watched "The Return" on DVD and I truly think it is special and is very absorbing as well as highly intelligent. I just wish I went to see it in the cinema on the big screen when I had a chance, because the film's cinematography is exceptional and nature views play as big part in the film as actors themselves do. I can close my eyes and still see the lakes, the forest, the vast empty spaces. The film left me feeling elated and clean.

I loved the structure of the film, so different to the usual Hollywood movie: nothing is explained and you can think for yourselves. Also I could not guess the ending.

The story is simple – the father of two boys was absent for twelve years (he probably was in the prison camp - this is one of the places I can think of where you could be fed a poor diet of fish).The mother never told the boys the truth about him .The father comes back, wants his boys to accept him as the father figure and help them to learn how to survive in this world, but the misunderstanding and flaws in his character play their role.

Behind the story many spiritual (and other) layers hide.. One quote comes to mind – that the prophets are never accepted by their own people. Or other layer - Russia itself is often viewed as a parent for its people . The country had a terrible 70-80 years recently when it really was a big prison camp. Now some of the Russian people feel estranged, unloved and sometimes betrayed by their country.

It is pity that because the film was in Russian language with English subtitles, some meaning was "lost in translation". I am of the Russian origin and noticed some discrepancies in the subtitles. But it must be very difficult to translate the film like this as there are not many words in it and they often have second-layer meaning.

The director Andrei Zvyagintsev must be really congratulated on such a great debut, a masterpiece accomplished on a very low budget.

The casting is absolutely perfect – the child actors even look very much as their parents. Vanya looks like his mother, has a personality similar to her, is close to her, where Andrei looks like the father and has more of the father's tough personality. They both are exceptional actors, especially for their age. When you watch the film you don't see the acting, you see the real boys almost like they were filmed by a hidden camera.

Konstantin Lavronenko did a particular good job of depicting very complicated personality of the father. Everything is there – pain of the wasted years, love for the boys deeply hidden, scars that some very hard life path left and all this behind the tough facade.

I give this movie 10/10
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harry_tk_yung13 April 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Spoiler warning !!!

When the program for the 2004 Hong Kong International Film Festival came out, I made a quick comparison with the one for the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. Even without trying really hard, I was able to identify well over a dozen films that are in both. Out of these, I picked The Return to watch.

What attracts me most is the mention of the Russian landscape. In the background material on this film from both festivals, the word `affinity' is used. The HKIFF talks about the its visual imagery's `mystical intensity and sacred affinity with nature' while the TIFF refers to director Zvyagintsev's `exquisite, instinctive affinity for the contours and shifting hues, the murmurs and silences of the northern lakes and forests.' My personal affinity goes back to the early seventies, a stunningly breathtaking documentary called `North of Superior', debuted on the occasion of the opening of the IMAX-type Cinesphere in Ontario Place at the harbour front of Toronto.

Now to the film. After an absence of 12 years, a father, purportedly a pilot, returns unannounced to his family. The two teenage boys, whose normal life does not include a father, are at a bit of a loss how to handle the situation. With only their mother's word that this stranger is indeed their father, they look up from the attic an old family photo, to confirm to themselves that it is indeed so. Still a little bemused, the duo cannot hide their delight when they are brought to understand that this man, their father, that is, is going to take them on a camping trip up north.

The rest of the film is about this journey (both on land and over water) which is not exactly as mystical as Captain Bejamin L. Willard's up a river in Vietnam (Apocalypse Now). While we are not given a great deal of information about the father (some say it's deliberately withheld, with which I do not necessarily agree), there is nothing wrong with assuming that due to security reasons (he may well be a military pilot), he simply has not been allowed to communicate normally with his family. What he is now trying to do is to take advantage of this window, regardless of how it becomes available, to do what fathers are supposed to do, to impart upon his children things that will be helpful in their development and maturing. This is as simple and natural as breathing and every father who has sons understand that. The father, despite some of his seemingly inexplicable action, is really the most consistent and predictable character. When he answers the boys' question by saying that it's their mother's idea that he should spend some time with them, the boys press him by asking if this is what he wants too. I think he does not directly answer the question but it is obvious that he wants to, and he wants them to know that he wants to.

More interesting is the oscillation of force (for want of a better word) between the two sons. Andrey (Vladimir Garin), the older son, is appeasing right from the very beginning, showing no sign of resentment of his father who has never been part of his life, until this sudden intrusion. It's the younger son Ivan (played by Ivan Dobronravov, who bears an uncanny resemblance of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense) who is the rebel struggling between denial and acceptance of this man claiming to be the father he must have secretly longed for. This balance is maintained until the traumatic event at the end, when Andrey develops, or matures, into the leadership role, whether he likes it or not. His anger dissipated, Ivan now looks towards his older brother as the father figure.

The film ends by showing the audience some of the photographs (black and white) we saw the boys took during the trip, picture that flows with jubilation. While the father does not appear in any of the pictures, it is quite obvious that he took the ones in which the happy faces of both boys appear. Looking at the photos, one would not have guessed the undercurrent that shadowed the trip, still less its abrupt, tragic conclusion. The father does appear in the last picture which, however, is not from this trip, but rather from 12 years ago, showing him carrying infant Ivan in his arms.

Even more brilliantly used are another two photographs, seen through the eyes of the boys this time. I mentioned the first one, which the boys look up in the attic to confirm that this man is indeed their father. The second one they find at the end of the film, tucked away in the sunshade of their father's car. This photo is almost exactly like the first one, except for one thing: it shows only the mother and the two boys, without the father.

The Return is a film so rich in imagery and symbolism that I am reluctant to do anything here other than reporting what the screen and soundtrack show. Each viewer will get a great deal of satisfaction out of devising his/her own unique interpretation.

Returning to the landscape, not even perfectly flawless cinematography can come close to substituting the experience of standing on the northern shore of Lake Superior, looking south into its awe-inspiring splendour, with the rugged, expansive, northern landscape behind you. It stays with you for the rest of your life.
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Dockelektro30 August 2004
I wandered a bit from commenting movies. But I had to return. This movie made me do it. I didn't know anything about it. I only saw one trailer, that did its job perfectly. Everyone said it was incredible. I went and saw it. I found it more than incredible, staggering at least. It start as a pure, simple story and never wanders from its main character or its story not the slightest bit. Its jaw-breaking stripped-to-the-bone structure is a true novelty. Its young actors reveal themselves worthy of a standing ovation. It's difficult to find words to talk about this movie when it conveys such emotion by so few means. It's a fantastic, cold and often unbearable voyage through a deserted horizon, and one of the best movies of the year.
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Get your tongue around this name: Zvyagintsev
Chris Knipp12 April 2004
What child doesn't long for the parent he's never had, even with mom and dad arguing in the next room? What boy hasn't endured a week that seemed to encompass a lifetime? We begin with the wrenching ordeal of 8-year-old Ivan, or Vanya (Ivan Dobronravov), who's watched by a gang of his mates while he freezes with fear at the top of a wooden tower over a chilly swimming hole and can't get down till his mom comes to fetch him. He has a fierce argument with the other boys and his older brother, Andrey (Vladimir Garin) that shows his strength of character. Vanya's intense will and need to prove his courage will dominate the story, which depicts what happens when the boys' dad (Konstantin Lavronenko) suddenly appears after an absence of 12 years and takes the two boys on a fishing trip. They run back to the house, they see their beautiful mom, and she says 'Be quiet, your father is sleeping.' That's how they learn he's reappeared. The shot of him looking like Mantegna's 'Dead Christ' as the boys peep into the bedroom where he lies sleeping exemplifies the film's austere beauty.

We tolerate the mysterious father - his cruelty never seems quite over the top - because there's a perverted tenderness in his hardness with Ivan and Andrey. He wants to make up for lost time: he wants to shape them in these few days; wants to help them become men. He's always a nurturer and teacher as well as a demanding brute. The mystery that surrounds the man evokes the gap between all children and adults. They boys aren't even sure he's their real father, but their mother says so. The bond between the two boys has become the more intense in the absence of a father and the scene in their bedroom the first night when they talk excitedly about the day ahead is as vivid, beautifully photographed, and superbly acted as all the rest. The expressiveness of the two boys' faces is beyond wonderful.

This stunning debut features exceptional performances by the talented young actors, brilliant storytelling in a fable-like tale that's as resonant as it is specific, and exquisite cinematography not quite like any one's ever seen before. There's something haunting about the sound track too - the way the clear voices emerge from silence and blend with music. There's nothing in "The Return" that isn't fresh and compelling. It's unlikely that there are any more intense evocations of boyhood or relations with a father on film.

The lovely, cool physicality of the movie's images reinforces the sharp contrast between the winsome, cheerful Andrey and the dour, intense Ivan. Andrey seems to bond right away with their dad but it's Vanya who makes the underlying rules of their week together. Ivan always wants something, if only a meal or to be fishing, at a different time from the other two. He's a kvetch. But beyond that, his passion and discontent are terrifying. That big almost ghoulish angry face atop the little body looks like a man's and haunts us when Andrey's bright eyes and smile have faded from memory. Despite his hardness, their nameless father seems almost unformed next to Vanya. It's a battle of wills. Vanya refuses to eat when they finally get to a restaurant and his father won't let him eat later. Vanya complains about leaving a fishing place to drive on and his father dumps him at a bridge for hours where he sits huddled in freezing rain. It's an ordeal, and getting stuck in the mud is another struggle and battle of wills in which the father of course wins and saves them. Yet there are moments of sheer joy when the boys click with their father and delight in the new places and scenes that they view through binoculars and photograph with a 35-mm. camera. The trip ends at a deserted island where their father has a secret mission and little Vanya's torment leads to a disturbing finale.

The Return heralds the appearance of a gifted new filmmaker, perhaps a great one. At times it evokes such recent lonely, austere masterpieces as Bruno Dumont's 'Vie de Jésus,' Van Sant's underrated 'Gerry,' and Jim Jarmusch's 'Dead Man.' But Zvyagintsev is Zvyagintsev and nobody else. There's an exciting new director on the world cinematic scene and we'd better learn how to get our tongues around this slippery Slavic name. ('The Return' won the grand prize -- the "Leone d'Oro" -- at the Venice Film Festival last year. It's not hard to see why.)
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gorgeous and disturbing film about growing up
ThrownMuse15 December 2004
Two pre-teen boys are shocked when their father returns home to them and their mother, after being inexplicably away for 12 years. He takes them on a road trip the next day. If you've seen the incredible but spoiling trailer for this movie, you know what happens in the last 10 minutes. Apart from the frustrating promotional trailer, this movie is exceptional and is one of the most strikingly beautiful films I've seen in a long time. The child actors are so incredible it is almost discomforting. The cinematography is simply breathtaking. "The Return" would make for a perfect double feature with the equally gorgeous and disturbing Italian film "I'm Not Scared" (aka "Io non ho paura"). Both films explore the fear and courage that results when children are suddenly faced with unknown horrors of the adult world. My Rating: 9/10.
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Strong performances and interesting direction and development make up for the weaknesses inherent in such a minimalistic film
bob the moo10 July 2004
Andrei and Ivan have lived the vast majority of their lives with their mother and grandmother. They find this dynamic changed when their father turns up after 12 years absence. While Andrei seems happy with this and keen to try and bond with his father, the younger Ivan is much more stubborn and reluctant – being suspicious of this man's motives. The three go on a trip fishing for a few days, which turns into a much longer time as the father has 'business'. As the journey continues Ivan struggles with a father who is strict and strangely cruel.

On the back of awards and good reviews I was interested enough to go and watch this film at the cinema. Not being a great thinker myself, I usually find the 'you work it out' attitude of art-house films to be rather annoying and unfair and sadly there was an element of that with this film. The narrative is interesting enough to keep you in your seat but just don't expect anything to be explained; in fact there was not even enough information to even really interpret what was going on – by the end of the film I was left with buckets of questions but hardly a single answer…I wanted to ask the others in the cinema (all 4 of us) if they had 'got it' and if it was just me. However what saves this film from being another obscure arty movie is the delivery and the journey we are taken on. For all the unknowns the film is still gripping, even if it is slow at the same time. The journey is an interesting one and one that sees the characters grow in ways I was captivated by even if I didn't understand it all. I would have liked even a little bit of information by the end but I was content that I had witnesses a story and, like some things in life, you don't get all the facts – I was just like the boys in the film, not knowing what was going on but involved in it nonetheless.

For a debut feature the direction from Zvyagintsev was excellent. It was full of great shots, great camera movement and wonderful use of surroundings to create a world where only these three are – no other cars and barely any other people. For this same reason, praise should be endlessly heaped onto cinematographer Krichman as he makes everything look eerily beautiful and calm. The direction aids the minimal story and helped keep me interested, but the clincher for me were the performances. The only named characters are the two boys and, as such, the best performances come from them. Everyone knows that Garin died in an accident similar to the films opening tower-jumping scene and it casts a bit of a shadow over his performance to think that such a young man has died needlessly, but his performance here is still assured. He is keen but he stills allows us to see bits of doubt and fear in his eyes – like a loyal dog coming back after a beating. Dobronravov gives a completely different performance that is much more showy and powerful and he totally surprised me – such a strong and believable performance from so young a boy, he makes Hollywood's blockbuster preening child 'actors' appear to be the bland products that many of them are. Lavronenko's 'father' is a brooding beast who is hard to understand and he plays him fairly blankly. In a way this works but I did wonder if Lavronenko really understood his character either. Two or three others are in the film but, as the character names suggest, the film belongs to Krichman and the late Garin and they do not struggle with this responsibility.

Overall I will not claim to fully understand what the story was about or if it was an allegory for wider issues but the story is still engaging and emotional. The delivery is pretty much perfect although I imagine many audiences will be put off by both the lack of information and the slow pace.

The direction and cinematography are superb and the two boys in the lead put many other child actors to shame by the sheer confidence and ability they have in delivering such complex characters and emotions.
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A movie I can't forget...
pachl5 November 2005
It amazing how many people have written comments about this movie, and surprising how lengthy their reviews are. Huge Hollywood blockbusters don't generate this kind of passion.

I don't know why this movie works so well, but it does. After the opening scenes, I was a bit concerned it might turn out to be a plodding, slow-paced film, but the plot keeps gathering steam and captures your interest. In this sense, it reminds me of Donna Tartt's brilliant book, "A Secret History", whose the plot is difficult to describe in terms that sound interesting or exciting, but believe me, it's a book that keeps you awake at night because you can't bear to put it down and wait another day to find out what happens next.

The movie's genius is in the way it keeps you guessing about the real identity of the father. It this man really their father? Is he planning to help them? Is he sincerely trying to get to know them, or is he a cold-hearted thug who plans on killing them once they are no longer of any use to him? When the movie ends, you can't be absolutely sure.

Just like "All About Eve" (Bette Davis), this movie has a rare sophistication. The characters might feel love and hate towards someone at the same time. In "The Return", the emotional complexity of the father/son relationship grabs your interest, then couples this with the mystery surrounding the father and his intentions.

If you avoid foreign films because you think they are slow and boring (and in truth, many of them in the 1970s and 1980s were boring), this one will pleasantly surprise you. It's certainly not some "action flick", but you won't be bored; you'll be transfixed.

EDIT: February 9, 2008. It has been about three years since I posted this. So far, I have no indication anyone has ever read it, so if you do, please vote whether the review was helpful or not. Thanks.
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Classy Russian psychodrama
Chris_Docker12 September 2004
We get plenty of US/UK movies, a reasonable amount of European and oriental movies, but it is comparatively rare that we get a movie from Russia over here. Russian film-making has a very distinctive style and tradition, so good examples of it are a welcome change. Certainly The Return lives up to any expectations of good art-house. The Russian outback is noted for its harshness and it probably requires a particular type of character to survive and flourish there. This unusual coming-of-age movie looks at two brothers raised largely by their mother. When their father returns after 12 years and takes them on an extended fishing trip they react very differently. The father is authoritarian – a complete change for the boys from the protective mother. He is a complex figure – is he a pilot? A crook? Part of him seems to genuinely love the boys and want to help them toughen up for the world they will live in, but the trip has tragic consequences.
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The Return
awmurshedkar12 February 2011
THE RETURN – 9.9/10

Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev

Writer: Vladimir Moiseyenko, Aleksandr Novototsky

There is something peculiar about the film, something which has its own splendor, glamour and an aura – eerie, unnerving and soothing at the same time, a feeling that will linger ceaselessly. There is maybe only one possible reason why this film does not deserve a perfect score; I'll bring this to light later. What was prophetic though was the revelation that this was Andrei Zvyagintsev's first film. Let's talk about that.

The Return deals with the relationship that builds between a father – Konstantin Lavronenko, who returns after several years of being absent from the lives of his two sons – Vladimir Garin (Andrey) & Ivan Dobronravov (Ivan), after they set out on a supposed joy trip. I don't like revealing plots in my reviews/opinions so that's about all you need to know about the film. As a viewer, or a critic, one might have a hard time or even find it impossible to categorize or precisely define what this film deals with. Is it a coming of age film, is it about some greater truth, is it a suspense-thriller, a mystery …I would suggest you stop there.

The film is frustratingly selective and ambiguous in its choice of details that it wishes to reveal and ones it keeps obscured from the viewer. My hunt began soon after the film ended, as I was convinced there was more to what I had seen or understood. You might find yourself screaming after – or maybe even during the film in some cases – out of pure dissatisfaction. Once I set out to search for answers, other than biblical references the director injects, nothing else came to light. As my search intensified, I began to see what hitherto I was blind to: the sheer masterpiece that was before me.

Such extreme mastery of filmmaking, few have depicted at such early stages in their careers, set aside the fact that this was Zvyagintsev's first film. The film is not about the details that are obscured from the viewer, though they add so much tension, anxiety and apprehension to the film that I have never found myself so edgy even in a suspense-thriller or a horror film. What makes it so edgy, captivating and enthralling is something I'll let you figure (it would also lead to plot spoilers); but things you must keep a keen eye for are: the performances by the three actors, especially the teenagers – they would put generations of mainstream actors to shame (especially from the Bollywood industry); the cinematography which is so dark, almost monotone in its shade of beautifully blended blue and grey, complemented by the choice of techniques which are so honest and original - like when the titles role in or the use of still photography at the end; and finally, the choice of locations. The script is perfection personified, absorbing and is a must for any individual aiming to understand and I must say FATHOM, the art and not just the craft of screen writing. Films like these defy all the paradigms and creativity choking tips in scriptwriting bibles.

So the next thing you must do is watch the film. Don't worry about the details you don't know, because the truth is you are not suppose to know them. The film is actually self explanatory. Knowing facts like the arrival & departure day of Christ, the adjacent page and the book where the father's picture was kept when the children first refer to it, the apparent similarity between their first meal and The Last Supper, and even the position in which he is asleep can add some significant and crucial depth to the film, but nothing that will deprive you of the joy and greatness of this masterpiece if you do not know the bible. May be this is the only true reason I am not giving this film a perfect 10. But one cannot ignore the colossal significance of writing a script like this without a reference. Several great films like Battle of Algiers, The Godfather, City of God, KAPO and many other classics of the same caliber had a reference point, a frame-work, some model to work with whether it was a novel or a real life incident about military occupation or a holocaust. Snatching a script out of thin air, and one as divinely perfect, watertight and educating as The Return, can only be the work of a true genius.

I have never been this perturbed by a film before; emotions that require all complexities of the human mind for interpretation, but still cannot be comprehended or explained by words have been dealt with in this film. The characters of the film speak very little, and very little can be spoken about the film too. It is a film that creates its own audience; it chooses them and leaves them feeling privileged, wondering and awestruck by its sheer grandeur.
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Brilliant--yet not a work on par with a Tarkovsky or a Kozintsev
JuguAbraham11 December 2004
Russia has produced some of the finest filmmakers of the century--Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Eisenstein, Grigory Kozintsev, and Sergei Paradjanov. Hollywood (with the exception of Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Mallick) is dwarfed in the company of these giants. Andrei Zvyagintsev follows in the footsteps of these giants. The opening shots remind you of Tarkovsky and the bleak, barren landscapes of Kozintsev. Yet "The Return" with all its finesse and depth of subject matter does not hold a candle to the works of the four aforementioned Soviet filmmakers. I was fortunate to see the film at the Dubai film festival yesterday.

At the most easy level, the film can be interpreted as a chronicle of two children chronicling (with a help of a diary written by two male siblings) the events of a week with their father that facilitates their transformation from childhood to manhood metaphorically.

At a more complex level, the film can also be interpreted as a political film--with the father figure representing the strong Communist USSR and the death of that state. The two sons can be interpreted as one representing the section that accepted subjugation by the state and the other that rebelled against the state and demanded freedom and democracy. Today both kinds of former-USSR citizens yearn for the "FATHERland" of the past for different reasons.

At yet another level, the film provides the option of being interpreted in religious terms. Is the father figure any different from Christ coming to the world to help the world, and die in the process to be accepted by those who believe and don't believe. The film is scattered with clues that afford this interpretation: the fish symbol, the storm in the sea, the walking on water (by the boys on a stone below the water line), the week ends on Sunday (the day of Resurrection), the late return by the boys and the rebukes that follow (Jesus admonishing disciples for falling asleep), acceptance through death, the first sight of the father lying asleep resembling a crucified and dead Jesus, the last supper (at home), the baptism by rain, is Andrei (the elder boy) named after apostle Andrew, the leaves under the car as palm leaves for Jesus entry into Jerusalem... the list could go on. One reason is that most Russians are deeply religious individuals. At the same time one could argue that all these were coincidences and there is no Biblical reference in the film.

The brilliance of "The return" and the films of the other four Russian directors are outstanding because they too could be entertaining at different levels and thus appeal to you 50 to 80 years after they were made. Like Tarkovsky used Bach's Requiem in "Solyaris", Zvyagintsev also uses Mozart's Requiem in the "Return." The Requiems afford to highlight somber spirit of the tales and add divinity. The sudden rains, the sound of trains are not new--Tarkovsky used these effects in "Stalker." "The return" seems to hark back to Tarkovsky and Kozintsev's Christian Marxist imagery.

The film is in color--yet the colors are muted with only the red car standing out. Kozintsev refused to film "Hamlet" and "King Lear" in color; Tarkovsky also used muted colors and sepia tints often.

The most jarring fact is that the young actor who played the elder brother died in the very lake months after the film was made.

The stark, spartan, evocative film deserved the Golden Lion at Venice film festival awarded this year. By a coincidence, precisely 40 years ago Venice had honored Kozintsev's "Hamlet"! The brilliance of "The Return" is all pervasive--acting, direction, photography, editing, screenplay and yet the film is not as great as a Tarkovsky or a Kozintsev.
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Russian filmmaker Andrei Zvyagintsev makes his feature-film debut with the bleak psychological drama The Return.
khanbaliq28 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The Return is a quiet and disquieting masterpiece which gets under your skin and stays there long after you leave the cinema. It tells the story of two Russian boys whose father suddenly returns home after a 12-year absence. He takes the boys on a holiday to a remote island on a lake that turns into a test of manhood of almost mythic proportions.

The film is a strange, intriguing rites-of-passage drama with an overpowering sense of menace. Its story alludes to religious and political parallels without ever clarifying them. A chilly, brilliant film from a startlingly talented debutant director that fascinates from its first frame. The Return won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
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In its essence, the film is a confirmation/initiation story rarely shot today
yahin24 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoiler Alert In its form, this is one of several road movies that have recently hit Russian theaters. In its essence, the film is a confirmation/initiation story quite rarely shot today.

At the outset a young boy displays cowardice when he is afraid of jumping into water from a jumping tower. From now on he is a "coward" and a "goat" in the eyes of his friends, which means that he is a complete outcast in their teenage world. Even his brother is meant to reject him.

The two brothers suddenly encounter their father absent for a dozen of years. Who is he, is he their father, do they need him - these are questions that interest the young guys, especially the younger of them who right away displays hostility to his father. A good point for the film's casting crew - the younger son looks as a perfect source of trouble.

Next day the three heroes start a strange journey to a remote island, which develops in a wonderful three-side conflict. During their trip, the father tries to behave as an absolute power, merciless and equitable, and consistently tries to expose his sons to realities of the adult life and develop responsibility in the young guys. And how different are his sons' reactions! While the elder is ready to co-operate, the younger develops antagonism and hatred.

During the culmination moment the younger son elevates to the top of the lighthouse tower on the island (a refrain to the film's opening scene) - and he "is born" by breaking through his cowardice. As a result the father dies and the sons undergo remarkable changes! From now on, the elder behaves like the father while the younger at last understands that he is a man and undertakes responsibility instead of stubborn resistance.

Here, the name of the elder son, Andrei, raises an association with St. Andrew, the apostle who was the first to join Christ and, after the Christ's death, brought the right faith to the pagans in the lands where modern Russia is located (the younger brother's name is symbolic Ivan!).

An interesting point - when the sons look at the family photo in the father's car after his death you see no father on the picture. This might raise a question whether the father was real or just a nightmare - a severe angel sent to put the sons' brains in order.

A sad fact, the actor who has played the elder son has drowned soon after the shooting of the film. I mean, trouble makers never drown, never die young - they live a long life stubbornly causing chaos and death.

From a cinematographic viewpoint, the film displays an inventive script, good acting, a talented work of decorators, beautiful cinematography, and slow "old-fashioned" rhythm.

9 of 10.
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Words cannot do it justice
kinolieber6 November 2005
I discovered this film on DVD, and after watching it, I immediately watched it again. There have only been two other films that had this effect on me: Wenders' "Wings of Desire" and Tarkovsky's "The Sacrifice". The comparison to those two masterpieces will give you some sense of what to expect from "The Return", but make no mistake: this film's greatness is all its own. It has an immediately seductive dreamlike quality, a stunning visual palette, and a story that resonates to the deepest common experiences we share as humans. In addition, it is graced by two of the greatest child performances I have ever seen on film. Like all films that we respond to so strongly, it touches me in a deeply personal way. The re-creation of the brothers' conversations at night in bed awoke memories of my childhood that have not been stirred in decades. The agony of the younger brother's frustration is achingly portrayed. The music by a first time film composer is gorgeously mysterious.

Two suggestions: don't skip the documentary on the making of the film. In its way, it is almost as emotionally shattering as the film itself. And if you are inspired to watch the film a second time, try it without subtitles. I found that it freed me to experience the film in a newly intense way and there was nothing that I missed by not understanding Russian: the voices and faces expressed everything perfectly.
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Minimum is maximum
kapkishe22 November 2004
This may be the best movie I've seen so far. Two boys and along came father. Feelings. Eyes. Heart. Pride. Intentions. Act. Yearning. Realism. Now I'm supposed to write at least 8 more lines. Well, let's see... Before seeing this movie, I suggest to be prepared for something you are able to see everyday but is rarely used as a movie story. All the blockbusters may now be hidden. Though it's a bit depressive, the scenes of beautiful Russian landscape and tears in eyes of a boy mixed with anger and emptiness, will make you never forget this film. I was a bit frightened at the end of it, but then you come to realize that that's the way things usually go - sour and bitter. The Return gives you an opportunity to think about your life with no dreams attached. I like it!
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The Return of the Prodigal Odysseus
G_a_l_i_n_a20 March 2006
"The Return" aka "Vozvrashcheniye" (2003) tries to succeed on many levels – as visual allegory, suspense, road movie, and on the deeper, more dramatic level of the father – sons' connections. Two brothers, 15 year old Andrei and 12 year old Ivan who are very close, live with their mother and grandmother thinking that their father was dead. One day, the father returns after 12 year absence and on the next day, he takes the boys on the week long fishing trip. For all three of them, the trip changed their lives forever.

The Return is an impressive debut by Andrei Zvaygintsev. His camera man Mikhail Krichman and two young actors deserve the praise and the awards. But when I read that Zvyagintsev is Tarkovsky reincarnated and the film is as deep and meaningful as the best Bergman's works, I don't buy it. Why did the father insist on taking the sons with him while his reason to go to the mysterious island was far from fishing? Am I to believe that the best the father could do after 12 years absence was to humiliate and to treat his sons as a drill sergeant? The most important and emotional, central to the film scene on the island with the screams, tears, and hatred felt like so called "Dostoyevshina" – a la Dostoyevsky but without his pain, anger, and talent. Dostoyevsky would've gone deep inside his character's soul and heart to give us the reasons for his actions – in "The Return" I had to take the director's and writer's words for granted and it is hard for me to do. What did I learn? That the fathers see themselves in their sons, hate themselves and try to break their children so the children will not repeat their (fathers') mistakes? That "The father always knows better?" That the generation of the children and the parents will never (or too late) understand one another? Or another idea. Maybe the father represents the old, before "Perestroika" Russia. Why not? He was absent for 12 years – he disappeared somewhere in the beginning of 1990s – just when Soviet Union ceased to exist and his sons grew in a new country, and there is no place in their world for the dark past which their father embodiments. Anything is possible. One thing is for sure – it's been done before - poetic symbolism, magnificent indifference of nature, painful and honest dissections of the close relationships, and the return of the prodigal Odysseus.

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The Return to what is, what was, and what will be
dminkin13 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The film details the journey of two brothers, Ivan and Andrei, and their unnamed father to a remote island wilderness. The integrity in which the film exposes the heart and soul of the young boy Ivan is matched only by a subtle, yet powerful and enduring mantra skillfully weaved into the masterpiece that is Andrei Zvyagintsev's The Return.

The first clue is the title. "The Return" is immediately understood to refer to the return of Ivan and Andrei's father after a twelve year absence, but such a connection is a blatant deception to hide a hard truth about the world around us; a truth that may only be revealed by participating in Ivan and Andrei's journey of self-discovery: Every journey has an end. This describes the cycle of life and death in nature. In this metaphor, the father is nature's caustic envoy. His instruction, discipline, intimidation, force, violence, and love educates and prepares the boys to live and thrive in an untempered world that has the power to destroy man's temporary splendor.

The visuals and shots complement the life cycle. The days of the week demarcate the action of the film, ending on the day it began. The camera often cuts to different perspectives in such a way to measure distances. Each "tower" has both a shot at the base and at the very top. After Ivan is left alone on the road, we see the car traveling in the far distance. We see a dead bird, and fish out of water. Ivan's defiance is the response to the world's neglect. Who is he really talking to when he pulls out the knife and proclaims, "I could have loved you, but you're terrible!"? He is speaking to the world he is witnessing first hand.

As a final lesson, Ivan's father sacrifices himself when Ivan threatens to jump off the island's tower. The boat on which the boys lay his corpse sinks and we are reminded of the opening shot of the sunken dingy to which we have "returned".
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The best debut of the 2000's
Magenta_Bob13 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Andrei Zvyagintsev's The Return is not only the strongest debut of the decade; it is also one of the most visually stunning and best films.

The story is about the two brothers Andrey and Ivan, who, after twelve years of absence, find their father back home. Without revealing much about where he has been or why he has returned, he decides to take them on a trip that they are very excited about. However, it turns out that the father is not a very pleasant man; he is harsh, demanding and doesn't seem to care much for his children. This creates a tension between him and the children. Especially the defiant younger brother Ivan objects to the father's treatment and barely acknowledges him as their father, and wonders why he returned to them when he doesn't seem to care about them at all.

In fact, we are told very little of the father's motives and that is part of why The Return works so well – its ambiguity. Due to its tip of the iceberg dialogue and sparse narration, it covers a lot of themes but also leaves much room for interpretation. Another reason is that Zvyagintsev refuses to make the father a pure antagonist. Granted, he is not a good father, but there is a sense of purpose about everything he does and at times we get the feeling that he might not be such a bad person after all, that he has motives for his actions, even if we aren't told what they are.

The way I see it, the trip is also a metaphor for growing up. In the beginning, Andrey is clearly a child, but by the end there is a certain maturity about the way he acts, and he even talks a bit like their father. If one wants to, one can also find some religious references in The Return; the Father returning (and ultimately disappearing again), how one brother believes in him and the other one doesn't, and all the crosses we see throughout the film.

This is a sparse film; there is very little music, and the cinematography, which is the best I have seen in a long time, is not exactly colorful. This is, however, compensated by the strong emotions displayed by the children and the tension between the different characters. In conclusion, if you want a strong family drama with unforgettable pictures, The Return will be well worth your time.
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A minimalist manifesto
elvis_costea17 February 2009
A very interesting experiment of minimalism. The director certainly took his time when making this movie: the pace of the action is very slow. You need patience to watch this movie. Even the music bears the mark of minimalism. All in all, if you have patience to watch it, it is well worth the time. This movie is a real work of art. It manages to achieve something that only a small number of Western movies have: it confers intensity without ever becoming overtly emotional. For this thing alone it would be worth watching. But this movie goes way beyond that. It deals with the value of a father-son bond and how damaging its absence can be. How it can lead to ultimate defiance or even hatred towards the long-missing father. It also shows how people could make the worst decisions when facing the question of what to do to make up for the lost time. From the well-intentioned, yet misguided and misunderstood, love, care and supervision of the father springs every tension, drama and tragedy in the movie. The two brothers, initially quite close to each other, start drifting apart when facing their fathers strange behaviour. One chooses to see past his parent's strange attitude, he strives to achieve a deep bond with his parent, a bond which he has so much missed. The other sees his father as some kind of ruthless tyrant against whom he decides to stand up. The result is some kind of a tough, stoical manhood initiation rite with an unexpected, tragic end.
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The Important Things You Will Never Ever Know
loganx-215 August 2008
Whats in the BOX???? The most frustrating object in film history. Like the glowing case in "Pulp Fiction"(before someone told you the "soul" theory).

Wasn't til I really thought about why it's so frustrating, and why the name "The Return" is almost ironic, that I felt like I maybe understood the movie, which is disappointing in the best way possible. That is to say what isn't in this movie, is as important as what is, the "lack there of", driving it on as in any mystery, accept the confused bundle of emotions only grows and grows and then...we'll then the disappointment becomes painfully and hauntingly poignant.

It's about two boys, whose father they have never known returns and takes them on a trip, not explaining where he has been, where they are going, or why. He's mysterious, cruel, kind, and all around an enigma. The younger son hates him more and more as the trip goes on, the older more and more willing to please. The tension thick enough to spoon.

It's probably the most honest father/son reunion film, I've ever seen, because it captures along with the torrent of emotions, all that can't be resolved as well.

Hits a lot of raw nerves...if you've ever been in this situation...

"Louis a boat is a boat, the mystery box could be anything...we'll take the box!"-Peter Griffin
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So simple, so honest, so wonderful!
blazz1323 November 2003

The big winner at the Venice Film Festival, The Return really is some glorious cinema and a tale, told with such passion, admiration and style.

Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov) and his older brother Andrej (Vladimir Garin) are two young boys, who were raised by their mother. One day, all of a sudden, their father (Konstantin Lavronenko) comes back. The encounter of the father and his young sons is something the boys were looking forward to, but when it actually happens, they're left in huge disappointment, reluctance. He's being overly cruel, terrorizes them, gives them a thrashing and tries to teach them to be real, tough men. While Andrey has no problems to obey the orders of the father, Ivan is not so easy to take. With his stubborn and obstinate behavior, he fights back and won't let his father control him. So, he takes the boys on a vacation.

It's dark, it's human, it's almost too real, but nevertheless, it's an amazing little film. The magnitude of the characters and the sublime interpretation of the actors, especially the young and talanted Ivan Dobronravov (the Russian Haley Joel Osment, but way better), is enormous. It touches you on so many levels. It's really a deep look into the characters and therefor it is a real character driven film. It's not trying to push a new moral or trying to be special or offer anything new, all it has to offer is honesty and simplicity, and it succeeds on those levels.

The father-son relationship, even though at times a bit too disturbing (but only when you think about it, you get the full impact of it's deeper meaning), is one of the most developed characterizations and perfectly presented on screen in the naturalistic style and vision. Andrei Zvyagintsev, in his debut film offers an emotional, honest and psychological look at the father-son relationship and achieves his goal. Worthy of winning the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar!

The Return is a film that stays with you, it comes under your skin and you think about it a lot. Maybe it's for the best to become aware of its brilliance only later (not right after seeing it). I've seen this film some days ago and only by a day or two later, I got to fully comprehend it. It's so powerful and the images haunt you. It really deserves all the credit.
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Promising premise, yet incoherent and illogical developments
Andreas_N8 February 2006
The Return is a Russian movie that deals with two boys, Andrej and Ivan, and the sudden appearance of a man who claims to be their father. The three of them embark on a trip that eventually brings them to a remote island. There things get out of control and a mentally thrashing climax leads to a weird final denouement that leaves many questions unanswered and an attentive viewer unsatisfied.

The movie's very basic premise is indeed promising and causes the audience to have certain expectations and rough ideas of underlying themes and the topics that are likely to be addressed. The first scenes provide an interesting introduction to the two brothers, their relationship with each other, their fears and specific characteristics. Russian movies tend to be very different from productions of other countries, mainly in terms of pace, visuals and tone. This very much applies here.

Then the boys' father turns up and the mysteries start. Who is he? Where did he come from? Why didn't he show up before? These questions do not necessarily need to be answered on condition that the movie either genuinely unravels the mysteries by natural developments or that the story is sophisticated enough to refrain from any revelations. Neither is the case. Instead more and more questions are posed and the story turns from interesting to weird. Not only that the identity and the intentions of the man claiming to be the boys' father remain entirely unclear, the story as it is presented is occasionally incoherent and simply not understandable. Some examples: The man takes the two boys with him for almost a week – nobody knows where they are going or what they are about to do. The road trip aspect is nicely transformed, but there is no main theme that provides real identification and understanding of the proceeding events. I never stopped expecting some kind of explanation, and thus I was surprised that the movie never provided one. Then there is something that the man digs out – it seems to be a treasure and the main incentive for him to go on the trip to the island in the first place. So what is it? Not a single hint is given. The entire quest of the boys to connect with the strange man is hampered by the incoherent developments and prevents the movie from persuasively elaborating on the father-son relationship, which was the primary source of the movie's emotional and psychological strength.

The two boys do a decent job. The younger one delivers some difficult and very emotional scenes that require substantial acting skills. The visuals are interesting, as you normally do not come to see images of the Russian countryside in all its rugged and picturesque beauty. The camera work is sometimes too slow in pace, but generally acceptable. The close-ups and the use of light is fine – so the visual accomplishments need to be appreciated as such.

What starts as a very promising movie becomes an average flick that lacks substantial quality in plot and storyline developments. Although I could to some extent identify with the characters, the movie does little to help the audience to connect with them. It rather provides nothing but questions you expect to be answered. The theme of an absent father coming back and the emotional turmoil inflicted on the two boys is a very strong premise that made me expect a very sophisticated handling of the conflicts and frictions within the family and in particular between the father and his sons. I would love to give the movie a good rating for its theme, but the crudities were too apparent and overlapping the qualities. 5/10.
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