The Return is the first film by the director, Andrej Zvjagintsev, and won the Golden Lion and several other awards at the Venice Film Festival, 2003, including the SIGNIS Catholic prize. Comments were made about how the film related to the tradition of Tarkovski. In fact, the film draws on classic cinema traditions from Russian cinema, a great deal of introspection, some mysticism, a focus on the Russian soul. The photography is both beautiful and bleak, a journey in the Russian countryside, side roads, lakes, finally, an island.
The film was also a powerful road movie, tense and symbolic where two boys, one who is devoted to his father, the other stubborn and resentful, travel with their father who has been absent from the family for twelve years. The tensions along the road make demands on the father who disciplines his children. The older boy tries to please. The younger boy is very angry. The film explores the demands of trust, the difficulties in communication, forgiveness and grief. There are overtones of biblical commentary (the photo of the father contained in the Bible, the relationship between fathers and sons, the sacrifice of Isaac). There are also symbolic echoes of the journey of the dead on the River Styx.
Water is used as a symbol throughout the film, opening with an underwater scene which in fact is the end of the film, the boys in the town jumping into the water, there is a lot of rain, voyages on water, storms. Another dimension is height where the young boy is afraid to jump - while his father, trying to rescue him from a tower falls to his death.
The film is a multi-layered look at relationships, set firmly in a Russian context and mood, but with enough universal values to interest world viewers.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.