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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

THE RETURN (2003)

This devastating Russian film delivers the sort of shock you get from a first encounter with a terrifying short story, something by Poe or perhaps Shirley Jackson’s THE LOTTERY. It’s a remarkable debut for helmer Andrei (Andrey) Zvyagintsev, and it deserved it’s Silver Bear from that year’s Venice Film Festival. Yet, he’s made only one film since. We’re in one of those miserable backwater Russian towns when a long absent father returns to his wife and two sons. The boys have so little memory of their dad, they barely know if he really is who he says he is. So, when father & sons go off on some ill-defined camping trip, we can’t be sure if this is an ill-conceived attempt at family re-bonding or if the sinister tone of Dad’s barely submerged violence will turn tragic. Chillingly, any idea you may come up with will prove inadequate to the shocking revelations that play out in a story with elements of religious mythology and long buried family secrets. The acting, formal use of space and tautly held pace play out in relentless, and bleakly ironic, fashion. The film is a masterpiece.

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