Remarks: A powerful narrative, superb actors, and a stark, realistic feel makes The Return a clear, effective story.
It's a very in-depth study on human complexity and frailty, and overall I found it more compelling and believable than Zvyagintsev's 2011 film, Elena. As in Elena, Zvyagintsev mainly drops hints about some of the key points of the characters' past.
His deliberate use of ambiguity was, for me, a near-infuriating exercise in frustration while watching Elena.
But in The Return, the tactic actually adds rich psychological textures to the characters. All exhibit courage and cowardice at important moments, which defines much of the conflict within their relationship.
Although the film does end on a highly depressing note, the story does come full circle and Zvyagintsev seems to make a clear decision about what the connection between Ivan, Andrei and their father is supposed to mean.
Who would like this film: Although The Return contains universal themes and isn't boring, I think it's geared more towards those who are experienced with foreign movies and art films. It's very good, but definitely a downer.
The "irresponsible" father angle is something we've seen in many Spielberg movies, but Zvyagintsev, emotionally, takes us to places where studio execs would never let Spielberg go in a million years.
And while made on a shoestring budget (rumored to be less than $500,000), the film was shot in northwestern Russia (at Lake Ladoga) and the Gulf of Finland. The cinematography is gorgeous in many scenes, with the natural beauty of the locations nearly matching the production value of any big studio film.
(3 and 1/2 stars out of 4)
Review written by: Joe Yang