Two boys are living with their mother somewhere in the industrial wasteland that is post-Stalinist Russia. One day the boys come home to find a man asleep, a father-figure who has been absent and is known only to them through one faded photograph. On this foundation Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev builds an enigmatic and allegorical tale of fathers and sons for his debut feature The Return (Vozvrashcheniye).
Forty-year-old Siberian-born Zvyagintsev trained in theatre and has previously directed commercials as well as three episodes of a Russian television series called The Black Room (Chyornaya Komnata).
Filmmaking has a long tradition in Russia but funds are very hard to come by, so Zvyagintsev considered himself lucky to have a half a million dollars to make his first feature. It was shot in summer when the sun never sets in a region north of St Petersburg between Lake Ladogo and the Finnish Gulf.
To say that The Return is a stunning debut is an understatement since it has already won many awards including Best Debut and Best Film (Golden Lion) at Venice. Ironically, this is the first time a debut film has been awarded a Golden Lion at Venice since Russian auteur Tarkovsky won one in 1962. The Return was also nominated for both a C?r and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.
The Return harks back to an earlier era of Russian filmmaking when Andrey Tarkovsky and his prot?e Aleksandr Sukarov told deceptively simple stories in the context of vast, empty, bleak landscapes that resonated with poetic energy.
Zvyagintsev lists Antonioni and his classic film L’Avventura as a major influence along with the films of Bresson, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa and Lynch. Knowing that these are his influences will better prepare you for this mysterious, slightly chilling psychological film about fathers, sons and sacrifice.
The film is sublimely beautiful thanks to the creative use of a monochromatic technique by cinematographer Mikhail Krichman. All the performances are outstanding and the soundtrack is an interesting addition to this seductive film. Not to be missed.