Russian Father Returns

Austin Chronicle | June 21, 2004
The atmosphere in this debut feature from Russian director Zvyagintsev is all gray: the landscapes (the film is set somewhere outside of Moscow where everything has the look of those decaying, post-Stalinist concrete-and-crap crackerbox hellscapes), the people, and, especially, Ivan and Andrey's father (Lavronenko), who returns home spontaneously after an unexplained 12-year absence. Silence has a shockingly loud voice in this film, and the wayward, ultimately unknowable father seems less a parental figure than some sort of ur-dad – a thickly muscled, Golem-like force of nature. You might view The Return as an allegory about the Soviet's own big, bad dad – Bloody Papa Joe – but I think it works even better if you discard those historical shackles and take it on its own simple (and ultimately horrific) terms. This is nobody's idea of a happy family story, but it is a pristinely chilling depiction of familial meltdown in a post-Stalinist anti-place.

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