JeffVice's Review of The Return

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Not to give too much — or anything, really — away, but there's a perfectly good reason for the opening scene of "The Return" to be in the movie. This crafty Russian-language import is constantly sprinkling around clues and insights, and like one of the film's characters, those bits resurface when you least expect. The film is one of the most chameleonic in recent memory. At varying times it's a character study, a family drama, a coming-of-age tale, a mystery and even a suspense-thriller. And it's effective at each. (There are veiled Biblical undertones, but your enjoyment of the movie doesn't depend on your realization or understanding of that.) The film's title refers to an unnamed, middle-age man (Konstantin Lavronenko) who's come home to his wife (Natalia Vdovina) and kids after serving several years in the Russian Army and other, more mysterious endeavors. His sons, Vanya and Andrey (Ivan Dobronravov and Vladimir Garin), aren't as thrilled to see him as you'd think. The younger boy, Vanya, is suspicious of this stranger who claims to be his long-lost father (he even checks an old photo to make sure). The man takes his sons on a much-delayed fishing-and-camping trip, which goes bad almost immediately when there's a quarrel over restaurants and a confrontation with a street thief. Along the way, he tries to teach each boy some rather tough lessons, sometimes verging on abuse. Of course, it isn't as if the scowling, sulking Vanya is making it easy for him.And it's not as if the man isn't giving them reason to suspect him — it appears he's got other motives to head into the wilderness. It would be unfair to reveal any more of the plot. Let's just say it takes a shocking turn. First-time filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev does a good job of setting an enigmatic tone (with help from Mikhail Kritchman's dazzling photography and Andrey Dergatchev's subtle, never obtrusive score). His cast is also very good. In particular, the brotherly relationship between the boys is believable, thanks to the performances given by Dobronravov and Garin, who died tragically a few months after the film wrapped (in an accident with eerie echoes of one of the movie's subplots). "The Return" is not rated but probably would receive a PG-13 for violence (slapping, a scuffle and some peril) and scattered use of strong profanity. Running time: 106 minutes. E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com
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Okfor ages12+