Dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev. 110 minutes.
Growing up without a father has been tough for Vanya (Ivan Dobronravov) and Andrey (Vladimir Garin). When their father (Konstantin Lavronenko) inexplicably reappears and invites them on a fishing vacation, it seems an opportunity to adventure. But, as the children travel into the wilderness, new tensions emerge, and their father’s brutal nature comes to the surface. Can the family unit, once disintegrated, be reassembled by force?
“The Return” is miserable and bleak as only a Slavic-made movie can be, crafted by director Andrey Zvyagintsev with cool matter-of-factness. Each scene is framed and paced with extreme restraint, often refusing to cue a particular response from the audience. This bluntness of storytelling is both a strength and a weakness — “The Return” never overreaches itself, but also sometimes lacks a detectable atmosphere of any kind. Young actors Dobronravov and Garin execute perfectly credible performances, though Lavronenko, as their dictatorial father, is sometimes so totally remote that he hardly seems human.
The lighting and desaturated color grading of “The Return” are both kind of ugly — that “The Return” was fêted in Russia for its cinematography says more about the Russian film industry than about the quality of the film. “The Return” is memorably dreary, but lacks the frigid majesty of Zvyagintsev’s later, Oscar-nominated satire, “Leviathan.” “The Return” is recommended for committed Russophiles and misery-addicts only.