The Return (not to be confused with the 2006 paranormal thriller that Buffy stars in) begins with a series of early Polanksi-esque shots that filled me with dread. Maybe it was just because the scenario on screen tapped into my own fear–like the young boy in the movie, I too would never want to jump from a high tower into the sea. It's a great set up to a tense and brooding film filled with both spoken and unspoken distress and uneasiness.
Two young boys meet there long-absent dad when he suddenly returns after a twelve year absence; it's not clear where he's been or what he's been doing, but he offers to take the kids on a fishing trip that quickly devolves into a miserable adventure. A mean dad suddenly bossing them around, leaving them by the side of the road in pouring rain to teach them a lesson, pointing out their deficiencies as men at every turn, it's no wonder that I sided pretty squarely with Ivan, the younger, stubborn and angry kid who thinks his dad is pretty terrible.
But beyond dad issues and the delicate balances of siblings relationships, the story has a more ominous quality, an element of suspense raised by many unanswered questions. Just what is their father up to? Who is he calling on the phone? Why is he taking them where he does? On top of the already extremely uneasy familial situation, the film comes alive with these additional mysteries.
The cinematography is striking, often monochromatic to the point of almost looking black and white (this KINO trailer is narrated in English, but you'll still get a good sense of the film). The shots are all very artfully composed and frequently long, reminding me often of Knife in the Water. This is director Andrey Zvyagintsev's first feature length film after a career in commercials; it won several awards including the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and the Fassbinder Award at the European Film Awards.
On an extremely tragic note, one of the young actors drowned right before the film premiered.