I haven’t seen a Russian movie in ages. I was tempted to go see the Night Watch (Ночной Дозор) but after much deliberation I decided against the “Russian” Matrix. It’s a good thing Russian cinema moved away from the subject of the Great War though.
The Return is Andrey Zvyagintsev (Андрей Звягинцев) feature debut and has that authentic indie movie aura. He’s not the only debutante in the credits. In fact, this is a first feature for most of his crew.
A ton of credit should go to Mikhail Krichman (Михаил Кричман) who does an amazing job as a first-time DP. The colors are very intense yet they lack saturation which contributes to overall mood.
In a recent interview Andrey Zvyagintsev said he chose “Misha” because of the vacation video he shot when in Spain. Same goes for the subdued and sombre soundtrack, courtesy of Andrei Dergachyov (Андрей Дергачëв), another first-timer.
I recently reviewed The Descent and I noted the movie is devoid of any allegory. Quite the opposite is true for The Return. The movie does work on it’s literal level quite well but there’s a deep undercurrent that puts these archetypes in a political and even religious context.
The story is that of two boys – Andrey, played by Vladimir Garin (Владимир Гарин), and Ivan, played by Ivan Dobronravov (Иван Добронравов). They’re growing up in a small Russian town and are taken care by their mother and grandmother. The inciting incident is that of their father coming back. He’s been missing for 12 years and the boys have to look for family photographs to recognize him.
“It’s him,” they both agree and the mother concurs. This doesn’t change the fact that a stranger has entered the boys’ lives. The father, Konstantin Lavronenko (Константин Лавроненко), is an ominous figure. He offers to take them fishing. They’re not really in a position to object.
Andrey is the hopeful and submissive one, he ends sentences with “papa” while Ivan is filled with doubts about this new authority figure. The road/boat trip follows an interesting path, exploring the interactions between the boys and the new person in their lives. It’s clear from the start their father’s word is the law and the consequences for not following it are always unpleasant.
The movie ends as a tragedy but the tension it builds is not released at the end. Some people will complain they received no payoff. Others will praise it as a starting point for exploring a father-sons relationship and its allegorical nuances.
Since this is an allegory, there a plenty of interpretations around. The father figure is that of strong-hand Russian leadership, some say. It’s been missing for 12 years but now Putin is back and civil liberty watchdogs issue one warning after the other. Strong-arm tactics appear throughout the movie and I definitely feel such an interpretation is not only plausible, it’s a required second layer for this movie.
If you’re going to see one Russian movie this year, I recommend it’s this one. The only OTHER allegory I’ve seen all year is Guy Ritchie’s Revolver. The only reason Revolver is supposed to work as an allegory is that it’s not working as anything else.
Note for indie producers: The budget for The Return is a secret. In an interview for the Russian media, however, Andrei Zvyagintsev and Dmitri Lesnevsky hinted that it was well below $500,000. Andrei Zvyagintsev also pointed out that the producers turned a profit even before The Return was screened at Venice Film Festival. It also won 2 awards in Venice: Golden Lion, and Best First Film for Andrei Zvyagintsev. This can’t be bad for business either.