Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Return: Grade B

The Return (2003)
Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov, Konstantin Lavronenko; Director Andrei Zvyagintsev (Russian, subtitled)

In this lyrical visual poem, two teenage boys (Garin and Dobronravov) must come to terms with their taciturn father (Lavronenko) who appears unexpectedly after a twelve year absence. They know him only from a single picture their mother kept. The father (who has no name in the movie) takes them on a road trip to a remote seashore, and then in a small dingy to a mysterious island some distance out. All the while the boys talk about the father, argue about him, wonder. He treats them very sternly but also with respect. There is no plot. Oddly, there is a quasi-McGuffin, a buried treasure the father digs up on the island, but we never learn what is in the box or why he wants it, even though it apparently is what motivated the journey. We never learn why the father was absent or where he has been. The story is all about the relationships among the three, and it explores them masterfully. It’s a quiet movie, mostly visual, with little dialog and very little music. The cinematography is thoughtful and beautiful. There is always a palpable sense of mystery, even foreboding, even though ultimately nothing happens. Objectively, the pace is extremely slow since there is no story deveopment, but in fact I was totally engaged for the whole ninety minutes with the visuals, the extremely fine minimalist acting, and the emotional tension. The movie has that mysterious and unforgettable sense of time, place and character, such as in Le Chateau de ma Mere (1990).

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