The Return (2003)
Directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev
May 15 at BAM's "The Next Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev"
Before Banishment, there was The Return. Don't worry—Andrei Zvyagintsev isn't concerned with paradox but with synthesis. His landscapes are as lovely as they are unreal, hermetic, and his characters, allegories on children's spindly legs, are all the more expansive for their narrow scope. So don't be tempted to lump him just with countryman Tarkovsky—there's a Lynchian heritage here, too, and DNA from Renaissance painting as well as Dostoyevsky. Appropriately, in all three films Zvyagintsev has made, his focus is the influence on us of family—whether as burden or salvation.
The Return's stance on this matter is neither quiet nor inscrutable, no matter what's been said about its pacing or Konstantin Lavronenko, who plays the father of Andrey and Ivan, appearing for the first time in their young lives without a word of explanation (one shot of Lavronenko sleeping in the attitude of Mantegna's "The Lamentation of Christ," and discerning folk will know not to ask). Unlike his obedient, credulous older brother, scowling Ivan, trapped from the first scene in the last stage of childhood, literally unable to leap forward, doesn't trust the guy—who is he? where's he been all this time? When this taciturn, totalitarian daddy takes the boys on a fishing trip, Ivan filches a knife from his pack, just in case. And that's all—but that's a lot. The trio winds across empty, Siberia-like fields and boats over placid gray water, saying little but each line with gravity, drawing irrevocably nearer to a violence the thrilling, awful promise of which reverberates through the film.