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Molofsky, M. (2004). The Return. Psychoanal. Rev., 91(6):853-859.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Review, 91(6):853-859

Film Note

The Return

Review by:
Merle Molofsky

The Return (2003) is many movies in one: a mystery without a solution; a visual meditation on the manifest and the hidden in nature and in the human psyche; a contemporary reworking of biblical themes of sacrifice and redemption; and a psychological study of the complexity of father-son and brother-brother relationships. The film's director, Andrey Zvyagintsev, like the earlier master of Russian cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky, offers an obsessive camera eye dwelling on the surfaces of the material world, as if divinity could burst through the raindrop, the peeling wood, the grasses, the trees, the reflective sea—burst through the screen and touch us. Both directors explore the harshness of Russian life in terms of its history, its climate, and its personal relationships. Zvyagintsev has a psychological vision that is bleak, yet rich, oblique, yet compellingly believable.

The Return takes place in a week during the summer. We enter summer underwater, with a lingering exploration of a sunken motor-boat. Water, then music. Andrey Dergatchev, the composer, evokes mystery, melancholy, and loss.

We meet two brothers—Vanya, age twelve and Andrey, age four-teen—who, with a group of boys in their mid-teens, are facing the challenge of jumping off a high tower into the sea. One by one the boys jump. Only Vanya, the youngest, is paralyzed by fear and shame. He can neither jump nor climb back down. Shivering, enraged, and humiliated, he is left alone on the tower as dusk falls. His mother arrives and helps him down. We have witnessed a scene that will be re-enacted spectacularly in the climax of the film. Vanya is on the brink of adolescence-which in the terms of this film means facing the demands of early manhood—and cannot bear his own inadequacies.

As Vanya fears, he is teased the next day by the other boys. Mysteriously, his older brother joins in the teasing and they get into a fist-fight. Andrey challenges Vanya to catch him and runs away, with Vanya in desperate pursuit. They run through silent streets. We hear their labored breathing, their footfalls.

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