An errant dad is in desperate need of some practical parenting classes in The Return, an enigmatic Russian drama about fathers and sons. Returning home after 12 years away, the nameless "Papa" (Konstantin Lavronenko) decides to take his kids Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov) and Andrey (Vladimir Garin, who looks like a sullen Haley Joel Osment) on a weekend camping trip. A threatening bully armed with a macho code of conduct and a quick pair of fists, he's determined to transform the boys into men. Whatever the cost.
While teenage Ivan is all too eager to study at his dad's school of hard knocks, younger brother Andrey is terrified of the growling, grey-bearded, and seemingly insane patriarch. Convinced that this isn't their father at all, but some gangster who's going to slit their throats in the woods, petulant Andrey quickly finds himself at the receiving end of his father's novel parenting methods.
"SO MUCH MORE THAN IT PRETENDS TO BE"
Director Andrey Zvyagintsev's debut feature is a throwback to the days of the 60s, when Russian cinema mesmerised arthouse audiences with simple but evocative tales full of hidden depths. Ostensibly the simple tale of a fishing trip, it's so much more than it pretends to be - as the possible autobiographical elements (the main character shares a Christian name with the director) and thinly veiled allusions to the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac suggest.
Taking place over seven days, it's set in an otherworldly part of Russia where the weather switches from torrential downpours to brilliant sunshine in the space of a few minutes. Even time itself seems to be ticking past at a different pace. As the boys follow their father to a desert island while he searches for buried treasure, it slowly becomes apparent that Zvyagintsev is making a mythical film about the mysteries of fatherhood as seen from a child's perspective. Building towards its finale with portentous certainty, it's a beautifully realized debut from an assured filmmaker.
In Russian with English subtitles.