Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Andrei Zviagintsev's The Return is apparently meant to be read allegorically, but I think the film works better on a simpler level of human emotions. Granted, there are some easily recognizable allusions and the father figure is a rather stark one, but the boys are the stars of the film, particularly young Ivan on whom much of the emotional weight is carried.
Ivan Dobronravov is excellent as the younger brother. He reminded me a lot of young Ivan in Tarkovsky's great Ivan's Childhood. The film opens with the boy unable to make the leap from a tall light station on a remote lake shore, which his brother and several other boys had done. His mother comes to retrieve because he is too ashamed to climb down, forced to face the ugly jeers the following day in this chronology of events.
The story is told through the pages of a diary the two boys keep when confronted with their father after 12 years. The father is presented in Christ form, laid out in bed as in Andrea Mantegna's painting. All we learn about him is through the two boys, as he takes them on a fishing trip that turns into a tumultuous journey.
You can read pretty much what you like into the film. Allusions abound, but what makes the story gripping is the relationship which develops between the father and his two sons, especially the doubting Ivan, who can't bring himself to accept this strange man as his father. All he had to go on was a photo taken when he was still a baby, which he pulls from a book of mythology in the attic. Older brother Andrei seems to have an inkling of a memory, but relies more on his mother's assertion than his own judgement.
Zviagnitsev leaves his story open ended, allowing for multiple conclusions. Some might find this frustrating, but it works especially well in this film. Here's the trailer.