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Andrei Zvyagintsev's Vozvrashcheniye/The Return (2003)

The brothers Andrei and Ivan are living with their mother and grandmother having the kind of relationship to each other that brothers often have. They fight a lot but still they do things together all the time. One day they come home and discover that their long lost father has returned to the home. The brothers haven't seen him for twelve years and have never known him or really known why he went away from his family. The father acts very quietly and does not seem very eager to play the role of the loving father. But the day after his return he takes the boys for a fishing trip which they become very excited about. The trip turns out to be not so much of a vacation as the brothers expected it to be and the father treats them very strict and has them working pretty hard. The journey goes to a lake and then out to an island where the father is looking for something he's hidden there long ago. When the boys are doing what they are told to do he treats them fairly well, but when they make mistakes he can be very cruel and punishing. This finally leads to a confrontation between the three of them, a confrontation with disastrous consequences.

The Return is something as unique as a perfect film.

The story is very straight forward although its strength lies in the things that are never told. The father obviously carries a lot of secrets around and because of the tragic climax of the film we never get to find out the answers to all the questions. The film, however, gives a lot of silent suggestions, so to speak. It is about the relationship between, partly, the brothers, and partly, between the sons and their father and it is depicted masterfully. The father is treating his sons very strictly and cruely but at the same time he seems to be caring very much about them. The boys have never known their dad and when he comes back he acts almost like he doesn't care about them. This angers the brothers a lot and especially the younger one, Ivan, who wishes his father had never come back. Then, when the story makes a u-turn, it all changes.

The actors are amazing. Konstantin Lavronenko and Vladimir Gavin who plays the father respectively Andrei, the oldest son, are both just great. But Ivan Dobronravov who plays Ivan, the youngest son, is nothing less than brilliant. He was 14 years old when they shot the film. Impressive acting talent there.

The cinematography is absolutely flawless. Sharp and cold like a knife. And it's like every frame has been planned for weeks, everything seems to be happening the way it is happening for a clear and specific reason even if it's just one of the boys picking up a bag. I can't help to think about another russian master, Andrei Tarkovsky, who also let the camera lens rest on the landscape or the scenery for half a minute or more after the "action" of the scene was actually over. It creates a moment of reflection for the viewer which, in my opinion, leads the film into different directions than if those silent pauses hadn't been there. (Any Hollywood producer had been shouting CUT! tens time before the scene was over...)

The film is surely a feast for the eye but in the end it's still the amazing story, which is fantastically well told, that lingers. As I said, it's very straight forward and actually pretty simple really but still it is dead on.

I notice that it's really hard to write a review about this one. Let's just say it's fantastic on every imaginable level and I do believe that most people around here would love it.

...I just read on IMDb that Vladimir Garin who played Andrei drowned in the same lake that is in the movie in 2003, shortly after the shooting of the movie was completed. He was just 16 years old.