special-event-the-return-dec-8thEnigmatic, ponderous, and as unfathomable as a Russian lake, this was Zvyagintsev’s debut film. The father of two teenage boys returns after an absence of many years. No clues are given to explain where he has returned from or why he takes his sons Andrei and Vanya in search of lost possessions on a small island, reached by rickety boat. Pervading the film is a sense of danger and unease, echoed in the muted colours and cinematography. “We do not like this island, or trust this father, or like the looks of the boat” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times. (Cert 12A)
Dir: Andrei Zvyagintsev 106 mins Russia 2003
We welcome John Riley back to ABCD to introduce this film, which will start at 7.30 p.m.

Programme Notes

The Return (Vozvrashcheniye)
Russia 2003 106 minutes Cert. 12A

Teenage Andrei and his younger brother Ivan are being brought up by their mother and grandmother in a run down small town near St Petersburg. Unexpectedly, their father – not seen since Ivan was a toddler – returns and takes the boys on a fishing trip. Andrei trusts his father, while Ivan is more wary. The father, military in bearing and skilled in survival techniques, is brusque and wants to develop the boys’ masculinity. Following a road trip through unpopulated north western Russia, the father takes the boys by boat to a remote island; although, it becomes plain that he has reasons of his own for this excursion. Relationships deteriorate as the film draws to a dramatic close. This film won the ‘Golden Lion’ prize at the 2003 Venice Film Festival.

Some reviewers have commented on biblical motifs in the portrayal of the father-son relationships, others have suggested an allegory of the Stalinist era, while further writers have been disturbed by the ambiguities in the plot. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times tackles this last thus: “The Return… does not conceal information from the audience, which would be a technique of manipulation, but from the boys, which is a technique of drama. The movie is not about the father’s purpose but the boys’ confusion and alarm.”

The Return features three strong performances and impressive camera work. For the latter, Mikhail Kritchman, captures the vast landscapes of north western Russia, near Lake Lagoda and the Gulf of Finland, with desaturated colours suggesting northern light. Filming took place over fifty days during the ‘midnight sun’ summer months.

The director and producer spent six months searching for “genius children” to play Andrei and Ivan, auditioning over 600. Vladimir Garin was a pupil at a school of music and drama, training to be an opera singer. Ivan Dobronravov already had stage and screen acting experience. Sadly, before the film’s release, and a year after its filming, Vladimir Garin died in a swimming accident in a lake near those used as locations. In accepting the award at Venice, Zvyagintsev dedicated the award to Garin.

Andrei – Vladimir Garin
Ivan – Ivan Dobronravov
Mother – Natalya Vdovina
Father – Konstantin Lavronenko
Grandmother – Galina Petrova

Director – Andrei Zvyagintsev
Screenplay – Vladimir Moiseenko, Alexandr Novototsky
Original Music – Andrei Dergatchev
Producer – Dmitri Lesnevsky

The Return is the stunning feature film debut of Andrey Zvayagintsev, a 39-year old Russian director who here renews the grand tradition of Russian cinematic mysticism epitomized by Andrei Tarkovsky.” Dave Kehr, New York Times

The Return begins as a mysterious quest, shades into a discomfiting thriller, then a survival story, and finally a tragic parable. Primordial and laconic, this remarkably assured debut feature has the elegant simplicity of its title.”
J Hoberman, The Village Voice

We are pleased to welcome John Riley to ABCD again to introduce and discuss tonight’s film. John is an author, lecturer and broadcaster, concentrating on film and music. His publications include ‘Dmitri Shostakovich – A Life in Film’, and he has presented the film programme on London’s Resonance Radio.



“Superbly shot and such a well constructed film – gripping throughout!”

“Powerful and gripping [but] not much good as propaganda for Fathers 4 Justice, though!”

“Very good story and excellent photography”

“Excellent film – gripping story and shot on a shoe-string as well!”

“Very beautifully filmed”

“Despite the references to Mantegna, I didn’t see it as a religious allegory. You could see references to King Arthur and the search for the Holy Grail – nevertheless, a brilliant film, beautifully filmed.”

“Myth? Parable? Almost impossible to say but profoundly moving.”

“An excellent film – I just wish I could understand Russian. I’m sure I could have got even more out of it, had I that ability.”

“This was one of those films where you would have to see it again to fully appreciate the powerful father-son fable [relationship]. It could [have] been demanding for a novice in Russian cinema but it was worth sitting through for that gripping ending.”

“Captivating from start to finish [with] great performances, especially from the young lad. Very sad but without being laid on too thick. I would [wish] to see it again in the not too distant future which, in itself, is a huge compliment.”

“A film noir with brilliant atmosphere and scenery, it left me wondering who was the stronger brother. Looking for allegories rather spoilt my enjoyment [of it].”

“Interesting and powerful story of bullying tactics towards vulnerable youngsters. The relationship between the brothers did develop and [maybe] could be helpful to them in later life.”

“Absolutely gripping throughout and quite disturbing but we’ll be sticking to Bournemouth [again] next year!”

“Remind me not to go there for my holidays!”

“Nicely done but did not work for me as a story.”

“I thought it might be like the last two films but I was pleasantly surprised – and it was not depressing.”

“OK, you’ve got all the clues – now write a screenplay for the prequel! Where had the father been for the previous 12 years? What was in the box? Why was [the film] not called The Fishing Trip? The two sequences involving the towers were quite interesting. Ivan [Dobronravov] was very convincing as the rebellious [brother] … but what was in the box ??”

“Impressive and strange – but what would they tell their Mum when they got home?”

“Almost as many laughs as one of Putin’s party broadcasts”

“What a fool I’ve been – I ought to have been much tougher on our two boys!”


A:22, B:10, C:4, D:0, E:0 to give 88%