The Return

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The Return film still

Russia, 2003, 105 minutes, Color
In Russian with English subtitles
Director: Andrei Zviagintsev
Screenplay: Vladimir Moiseenko, Aleksandr Novototskii
Camera: Mikhail Kritchman
Sound: Andrei Khudiakov
Art Direction: Ren Film, Dmitrii Lesnevskii
With: Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov, Konstantin Lavronenko, Natal'ia Vdovina
Production: Ren Film Studio
Awards: Golden Lion Award, as well as the prize for debut film, at the 2003 Venice International Film Festival; the Golden Eagle-2003, official award of the Russian Academy of Film; and Discovery of the Year prize from the European Film Academy Awards. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes Awards.

The Return tells the story of a father who returns after twelve years of absence to his wife and two boys, Andrei (aged 15) and Ivan (aged 12). One day the boys and their reticent father set out on what seems to be a casual fishing vacation. After a series of incidents along the way, they find themselves on a remote and desolate island where the father has an urgent task: to unearth and salvage a mysterious coffer. The stern and unjust father forces the younger son to reject him as an authority figure, and when tension escalates, Ivan threatens his father with a stolen knife. He then runs away, scared by what he has done. The father chases Ivan until the boy climbs a dilapidated observation tower to find safe haven. The father follows him up the tower, but falls to the ground and dies. The boys carry the body of their father to the boat and head back home. As they reach the mainland and disembark, the boat drifts back into the open water and sinks, submerging the father and the coffer. Ivan and Andrei return home.

The Return film still

On one level, The Return explores the complexities of father-son relationships. The two boys represent two kinds of attitudes towards the figure of the Father: one is full of admiration and obedience; the other of disrespect and rebellion.

On the metaphorical level, the film presents an interpretation of the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. In the Old Testament Abraham's God calls upon him to sacrifice Isaac (Ivan) to the clan's deity; before that he had also commanded Abraham to expel his older son, Ishmael (Andrei). The father leads Isaac into the wasteland, making it seem that he is forging and strengthening the tie between them. In The Return, when the father dies, it is Andrei who takes on the position of an officious and eager diviner, whereas the younger son begins to worship an unrevealed, nameless, inconceivable, and resentful God—that is, his own unsociable and nomadic father.

At the same time, on the social level, The Return is a reflection on the role of ultimate power in Russia's troublesome history and culture. In its study of supremacy, the film focuses on two key issues: authenticity and authority. The sons search for an old photograph of their father to ascertain his authenticity, and appropriate his knife and watch as a means to question his prerogative in establishing hierarchies in their family, simultaneously claiming their birthright in the act. The film provides a subtext for reexamining the status of such historical figures as Ivan the Terrible, Dmitrii the Pretender, Peter the Great, and so on, as agents of preeminence and sovereignty.

The film also signals a return to Andrei Tarkovskii's visual paradigms and imaginative tempo: the construction of a space void of all irrelevant objects; the inclusion of memories from childhood as an imminent tier of narrative; the perception of nature as a mystical, almost religious force; and the general atmosphere marked by existential angst. Extra-textual factors provide additional grounds for comparison: Tarkovskii's given name and the name of one the characters; the coffer as a possible reference to the idea of buried treasures in Arsenii Tarkovskii's poem, which later galvanized his son Andrei in his film The Mirror; and the fact that Tarkovskii's Ivan's Childhood also received the Golden Lion Award at the Venice International Festival in 1962.

Andrei Zviagintsev

Andrei Zviagintsev photo

Andrei Zviagintsev was born in 1964 in Novosibirsk. He graduated from the acting department of the Novosibirsk Theatre Institute in 1984 and from the acting department of GITIS (Moscow) in 1990. He has acted on stage and has had some minor roles in television series and films. Without any professional training as a director, he produced and directed several television films. The Return is his debut feature film.

2002 The Black Room (television film)
2002 Busido (television novella; editor and producer)
2002 OBSCURE (television novella)
2002 The Choice (television novella)
2003 The Return
2004: Prophets and Gains Debut Films at Pittsburgh Filmmakers STW [СТВ] Film Company Pygmalion Productions NTV-Profit Film Company

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