Even the strongest feelings, even the deepest bonds die away if left alone for long enough; the return of the prodigal father can only cause ache to the ones left behind and drains all life from their open arms. All great stories of humanity have already been lived and told, yet their magic is brought to life under the skillful hands of a talented creator. Andrey Zvyagintsev is a promising director, whose mysticism and naturalistic approach to the story is reminiscent of the great Andrei Tarkowski. In The Return time stood still and the natural world defeated man once again in their fight for supremacy- woods, rain, lake, wind, arid land conquer the realm of man and their ancestral force slowly reshapes his habitat.
Once again, journeys define us as human beings and challenge our limitations, either turning us into kings of the world or beggars of our long-lost humanity. The Return, contrary to expectations, is rather about the two boys -Vanya (Ivan Dobronravov) and Andrey (Vladimir Garin)- than about their unknown father who comes back after twelve years of absence. His return feels less natural than his leave and is marked by unspoken truths and hidden plans. The father comes from nowhere, has his own hidden agenda and at the request of the mother, takes the two boys on a trip that is used an excuse to tend to his own affairs. Harsh, violent, unaffectionate, stark, the father rapidly turns from unknown figure to detestable adult, defeating the spirit of the boys, reaping their innocence and breaking their hearts. Andrey and Ivan record their trip and mixed feelings on a diary, meant to witness their coming of age, their rite of passage from their mother's protective dominion to their father's abusive realm. Andrey is more lenient, anxious to please the father, desperate to grow under the influence of an male role model ,whereas Ivan is the rebel with a cause; to him, the stranger doesn't qualify for the paternal figure and he resents its dominating attitude. His final outbreak, stealing away his father's knife - a symbol of manhood and dominance- leads to an unexpected turn of events that will shatter his innocent childhood world.
The characters are well-defined, standing luminous in the dark shades of the movie, almost as red as the car -symbol of the crossing over between the world of innocent childhood and the harsh reality. The boys are natural in their roles, rendering a wide range of emotions, from mute excitement to fear and ultimately, shattered innocence. The father has the agile movements of a trained military figure, the inexpressive face of a heartless creature, and the violent gestures of an abused adult; however, his final strike of unselfishness conceals the promise of redemption. Still, life steals aways his final attempt to regain his long lost children and he vanishes as quickly as he emerged. The mother -blond, protective, kind, attractive- is only powerful outside the father kingdom and watches helplessly how her children fall at the mercy of the estranged husband.
In a religious key, the movie is a parable of the supreme sacrifice- that of the Chris figure father who has come to save believers and non-believers. The fish, the sea, the boat that feels like walking on water, on a hidden stone, the father scolding them as Chris did with his disciples, the corpse lying in the boat as if crucified, all these resemble the Biblical story and give a deeper meaning to the story. On the other hand , it could all be an apophenia effect of a desperate mind. The key lies in your own heart and in the wonderful things The Return has in store for each of its viewers. This is a movie that will sadden your heart only to deliver your spirit from the darkest pit; life is generally painted in sepia tones and it is within us to find the guiding light, the strongest shade of red that can colour our inside.