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Zvyagintsev’s The Return

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First the Fatherland in Zvyagintsev’s “The Return” (2003) | Blu-ray Review

First the Fatherland in Zvyagintsev’s “The Return” (2003) | Blu-ray Review

Russian auteur Andrey Zvyagintsev famously nabbed the Golden Lion at the 2003 Venice Film Festival for his auspicious directorial debut The Return, an allegorical melodrama centered on estrangement and forced reconciliation. Mirroring ravaged familial themes evident in his latest film, 2017’s Loveless, which netted an Oscar nod and the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Zvyagintsev’s first feature was a stellar examination of modern day Russia through the lens of the broken family. Two preadolescent boys see their childhood abruptly come to a halt as their absentee father, who had disappeared mysteriously twelve years ago, arrives to take his sons on fishing trip which grows into an increasingly tense reunion, ultimately ending in tragedy.

Zvyagintsev has commented how each of the four nuclear family members are supposed to represent an element, with the unnamed father a symbol for water, the motif which opens the film (and provides an eerie ‘return’ of its own). But much like his 2011 film Elena, his debut plays like an open-air chamber drama, more akin to Chekov than later Tarkovskian flourishes.

Konstantin Lavronenko provides the film with a menacing, glowering backbone, the return of the mythical fatherland who seems interested only in typically masculine, overtly cruel rites of passage as the way to approach his progeny while he engages in his own nefarious activities, involving a mysterious box, the contents of which are never discovered.

The real energy of The Return is supplied by the two child actors, particularly from Ivan Dobronravov, whose anger and resentment provides an imbalance in the power dynamic between his father and older brother (which is eventually restored in the film’s closing moments). Vladimir Garin, who portrayed his elder brother, sadly died in a drowning accident in St. Petersburg shortly before the film premiered in Venice. This is also the first narrative collaboration between Zvyagintsev and DP Mikhail Krichman, capturing a glacial desolateness in the north Russian countryside which is as much a character as the troubled humans stuck in it.

Disc Review:

Kino Lorber releases The Return in 1.85:1 with 5.1 surround sound. Picture and Audio are well-attenuated in this new transfer of this early Zvyagintsev classic. Two extra features, alongside the film’s original trailer are also included.

Interview:

Director Andrey Zvyagintsev is on hand for this twelve-minute interview, discussing his background as an actor and his segue into directing, mentioning Antonioni’s L’avventura as the film which shifted his consciousness.

The Return – A Film About the Film:

This sixty-three-minute 2004 documentary about the making of The Return is a behind-the-scenes treatment mixed behind-the-scenes footage with interview material.

Film Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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