Prodigal Dad

Filial ecstasy and agony in The Return

Though clearly a homage to Tarkovsky (and, consciously or not, to the sardonically inquiring spirit of Krzysztof Kieslowski), Zvyagintsev's film is a return in more ways than one. Thematically and formally, it's a throwback to the sacral mysticism of pre-revolutionary Russia. It's easy to see why this unrepentantly religious (small r) film became a hit among Russian moviegoers sick to death of the arid pedagogies of communist dogma. I've seen The Return twice, and was transported both times. Yet for all its enigma, it's also—and this went right by me on the first viewing—deeply reactionary, not to say czarist, in its own paternalistic pedagogy. Zvyagintsev, who for the most part understandably refuses to yield to pleas to explain his film, relented enough to tell one interviewer that it was about "the metaphysical incarnation of the soul's movement from the mother to the father." If that means what I think it does—and it is certainly borne out, however ambiguously, in the movie—The Return adds up to an implacable discounting of maternal love, but also, perhaps, of Mother Russia (enfeebling) into Father Russia (character-building). I'd have thought this, of all nations, would have had it up to here with tough love from strong leaders.

The Return was directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev; written by Vladimir Moiseenko and Alexander Novototsky; produced by Dmitry Lesnevsky; and stars Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov, Natalia Vdovina and Konstantin Lavronenko. Now playing at Edwards University, Irvine.

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