In the opening scene, a group of kids racing to jump into a lake from a very high jumping stage, they are in a hurry, shouting at the youngest to jump, he is terrified. Now it is sunset, the weather becomes very cold.
He is alone, shivering in his swim suit. His mother is coming from a distance, up the stairs, hugging him, persuading him down, but he says “I have to jump, or they will call me a coward”. The group of challenging boys forces the older brother to insult his young brother, calling him a coward. Later, at home there is a surprise. Their father has returned, and takes them on a trip. From now, we have only these three main characters, the father and his two sons.
The film becomes a field of conflict between the returned father, and his two sons. the older siding with the returned father. The younger, refusing to accept his father, “How do I know that you are my real father?”
The father finds himself in a critical situation, unable to answer the questions of the younger son . He cannot deal with this anger , failes to be trusted by him. The boy expresses his refusal of the returned father by sarcasm. Astonished with his ability to asccept the new situation, that he has a father to respect, obey, and follow. The younger boy- and the director- despises these ways of socialization of male children accepting the patriarchal gender image of males. During the trip, the younger, always longing for his mother, although she is far away at home waiting for “The Return” of her children.
The director, Andrey Zvyagintsev, a graduate of the Moscow State School of Theater Art, has had experience with acting which explains how he controls his characters especially the two boys, from the opening scene the defined characters give us the key to follow the rest. Even the young son needs such experiences, these masculine ways of dealing with life (remember how the father uses his hands to give every one of the family his part of the duck, while the mother is admiring his behaviour). The director asks questions through his characters: is it true that kids need all these male habits? This spirit of competition between males according to The Return is all we need to be suspicious and rebel as the young boy did, all we need to get angry.
At the climax, when the boy conquers his fear, going up the stairs to be far away from his father, it is the same location as the opening scene. The father runs upstairs in a hurry to catch the rebelling boy, tragically, the father dies at once. Now the problem is how to return with the father’s body. Now they can use the experiences which he gave them within the trip to drag him and put him in the boat. The body vanises with a box of photos. Now they have to “Return” home alone. The title is ambiguous. Is it the return of their father or the return of the two brothers alone to their home and their mother crossing the isolated island by themselves.
The integral film has a harmony between form and meaning, does not use flashbacks, but always goes forward with his characters, looking back in anger. The Return stands for the future, and avoids the past and nostalgia. Those old photos drown in the island with the body of the returned father. The Return has a strong and effective vision related to the world of classical cinema.
© FIPRESCI 2003