The Return

Institute History

  • 2004 Sundance Film Festival


If ever the sky had weight in a film, it's the one that hangs over the harsh, northern Russian wilderness of Andrey Zvyagintsev's The Return. Drawing upon the area's stark textures, the film follows two young brothers whose lives are transformed when their estranged father (a man they know only from an old photograph) returns home after many years. Father and sons embark on a reunion trip to a remote region of forests and lakes, but as they drive farther into the desolate terrain, the tension between the father's hardened authority and the younger Ivan's purely intuitive defiance escalates and ultimately leads to tragedy.

But why has the father returned, and what's behind their trip? Is he even their father? The film's intentionally loose articulation of the circumstances works with its daunting visceral imagery of isolation (somber hues, creaking trees, driving rain) to sidestep a conventional drama and create a more ambiguous, archetypal space. Zvyagintsev isn't interested in providing interpretations but in devising an experience that engages us more obliquely.

So intense is the expression of inner emotion that there's a paradoxical tug between a very intimate, personal viewpoint, and a more abstract, almost Greek notion of destiny and human impotence. With exceptional performances and extraordinary imagery, Zvyagintsev has fashioned a remarkable first feature.

— John Nein

Screening Details

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