Sunday, September 30, 2012


With beautiful acting performances, a straightforwardly told tale of the ages-old story of fathers and sons is given an even greater depth through elements of man's struggle with and often victory over nature, left-unexplained mystery, and the inscrutable workings of fate which can even transform a person into something else. Vozvrashcheniye (int'l title: The Return) is an organic film: the story is all humanity's and yet every turn of event and every alternation between excitement over the fish caught and loathing of the man who seems coarsened to the end, and running through it all a deep-seated admiration for the man's manly jobs and strength and resourcefulness, seem to have been born of the scenery surrounding them, the rains which come and go, the weed-overgrown dunes which seem to have never budged an inch, and the mud, clay, and grime that cakes everything that can rust, as everything can. The film's greatest strength is its remarkable ability to show differences of characters between all its notable characters, most importantly the two brothers, Andrei and Ivan.

It is a tough enough job to delineate two characters who don't dramatically differ from each other yet are different in temperaments, and yet again have a deep love for each other, to draw such characters through dialogues and screenplay. But it's a rarer thing to find two such actors who can completely be in their roles and hardly look anything else than them, whose eyes can speak more than their mouths do. Initially, one would think Ivan Dobronravov's character, playing his namesake, to be the central character of the film, not least because it is common to find films showing the growing up of some young boy. But this is no Hollywood film to stick by the same trick. Slowly, while Ivan never loses his primacy, Vladimir Garin, playing Andrei, comes into being, slowly his character gains more and more sympathy from the viewer, not just as the elder brother or as a necessary cog in the film's plot, but slowly it dawns on the reader that the film is about the two brothers, both of them. Of how where that one who can see things more penetratingly or can reason more can be more obstinate, but won't lose or gain more in understanding of life than that one who is hero-worshipping but only so for receptivity, who can love and forgive but who can also think, even if hiding that behind no ideas to stick to. The contrast and the love between Ivan and Andrei is fascinating, which is only the more and better exposed by their different reactions to their father and what they think they can learn from him.

The film shines in its honesty to its narrative. There are no voice-overs, there is no one recalling the incidents of those 7 days, except the diary and photos if you choose to view them so. There are no attempts to alleviate what all shall always remain mystery: where was the man for those 12 years, why has he come back, what was hidden in the pit, and does he have a dark past or even present that he has been fleeing from and that has made him the man he is, unable to warm up to his own blood? For in the photos before he left, he seems a usual family man: what must have happened that he left? In the frame of such questions that remain open, two boys struggle to find meanings of manliness and how important it is to be a man: in a society where plunging from as high as possible into water is done to show that you are not a chicken, these questions not only are for the boys, but even for the man, who keeps reminding the boys how little the men they are that he is. Victims all, there is still hope in the silently suffering mother, for she still runs to her child when he is standing up there grappling with the question, to jump or not.

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