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Kino on Video presents
The Return (Vozvrashcheniye) (2003)

"Why did you come back? Why? Why did you come get us? You don't need us. We were fine without you, with Mom and Gran. Why did you come back? Why did you take us with you? What do you need us for?"
- Vanya (Ivan Dobronravov)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: October 18, 2004

Stars: Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov, Konstantin Lavronenko
Other Stars: Natalya Vdovina, Galina Petrova
Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some language and scenes of child abuse)
Run Time: 01h:45m:51s
Release Date: October 19, 2004
UPC: 738329035129
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-A-B C+

DVD Review

A Golden Globe nominee for best foreign film and the winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival, The Return a Russian import, is one of the best films of the year, a spellbinding blend of family drama and slow-burn suspense that feels wholly foreign, yet wholly genuine.

Andrei (Vladimir Garin) and Vanya (Ivan Dobronravov) are brothers living in a small Russian village with their mother and grandmother. They've never met their father, until the day they come home arguing and their mother (Natalya Vdovina) tells them to quiet down, because "Dad is asleep."

The boys don't know enough about their father to identify him without the aid of a photograph (at one point, Vanya asks his brother how they even know the man is really their father; "Mom says he is," is the best Andrei can come up with), and they aren't too enthused when he suggests they accompany him on a week-long fishing trip.

They go, though, and the suspense builds as it soon becomes clear that the man is concerned with more than just spending time with his sons. He drives the boys to isolated areas and always keeps them moving. He forces them onto a boat in the middle of a rainstorm, and makes them row him to a remote island in the center of a massive lake. And, while the boys are out fishing, we see him visit an old farmhouse and dig up a chest. What is it? Buried treasure? A bank robber's loot? It doesn't matter. Ultimately, the father remains as distant and unknown to the audience as he does to his sons. His secrets and motivations aren't the point.

Rather, we're watching the way the children react to the presence of a father they've never known. Andrei is quick to please, playing navigator for his father and following his every order. But Vanya, bitter at the painful intrusion of this outsider into his ordered life, is distant. He won't call the man "Dad" and, for most of the trip, sits silently in the back seat, or gripes that the so-called fishing trip doesn't seem to include much fishing. Father responds by throwing Vanya out of the car to sit in the rain while he and Andrei go about his business.

Director Andrey Zvyaginstev, who also co-wrote, is careful never to reveal too much of his characters. We're not sure if father is cruel with his children because he's a bad person, or some ulterior motive, or simply because he doesn't know how to relate to the boys he has never known. The brothers are faced with a harrowing ordeal at the film's climax, and the way they deal with it feels natural, born of the way Zvyaginstev carefully developed their characters.

The performances don't feel like performances, particularly the children's; Garin and Dobronravov aren't professional actors and their unconscious realism is a credit to the film. Their relationship is the center of the movie, and feels totally genuine throughout, an undercurrent of love visible even when they are bickering or fighting. Lavronenko has more of a résumé, a plus in a role less emotionally naked, more shrouded in mystery.

Zvyaginstev stages scenes on bitter, sunless days that feel cold and isolated, and blue camera filters threaten to leach every bit of joy out of the film, but it's not a chore to sit through. Much of the picture is propelled along with a road movie's energy, and the simple interaction between father and sons is captivating. That the suspense elements are never fully explained does not devalue the suspense, either—a psychological thriller more than a story of children in peril, The Return is about emotional mysteries.

The film carries an additional poignancy if you know that the young Garin, only 16, died shortly before the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival. He drowned in the lake that served as a location for many scenes in The Return.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Return looks as good on DVD as most new American releases. The stark palette of blues and grays and strong blacks give the image depth. The picture is quite crisp and shows off detail well. A scene near the end looks a little fuzzy, almost as if someone has cranked up the edge enhancement, but I'm fairly sure the picture was manipulated for emotional effect, as the anomaly appears only in that scene. Overall, I didn't notice much artifacting, despite some scenes with heavy fog, and only a bit of aliasing.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: A 5.1 mix in the original Russian is the only audio option. It's a fairly decent mix, though front-heavy. Dialogue comes across well, as does the haunting, rarely used score. There is a bit of LFE, but not too much. Surrounds are limited to atmospheric effects and occasional front-to-back imaging.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:27m:28s

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo galleries
Extras Review: The primary extra is The Return: A Film about the Film, a 63-minute "making-of" documentary originally produced for (I believe) Russian television. A lot of the running time is taken up with the creators' heady statements about the film's artistry, and their favorite scenes and such. At times they get a little too into the film school mind-set of unpacking the allegory in every single scene (they talk about the mother character for a few minutes like she's this iconic figure, though she has about two minutes of screen time). But interspersed is a lot of good on-set footage that makes the earnest self-love more palatable. And at the end, there is a tribute to Vladimir Garn, the boy who played young Andrei, who drowned shortly after the film was made in the very lake on which many scenes were filmed. He looks so young in his audition video, filmed just over a year before his death.

Other extras include the trailer and three photo galleries, one of the black-and-white pictures shown at the end of the film, one of behind-the-scenes shots, and one of stills taken from the film itself.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

The Return is a wrenching, well-composed psychological drama with enough tense moments to be classified as a thriller, though the word paints the wrong picture. Kino has produced a fine disc for this well-received import.


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