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Return, The

Kino // Unrated // June 26, 2018
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted June 18, 2018 | E-mail the Author

Andrey Zvyagintsev's The Return (2003) probably wasn't the best film to revisit on Father's Day, but that's how it worked out this time around. This cold and brutal family drama is as confident, calculated and well-constructed as debut films get: it unfolds like a waking nightmare, rarely easing up on the suspense as its three main characters tread deeper into rugged Russian wilderness without ripping off Stalker. We're not sure if anyone knows the destination, but it sure as hell isn't young brothers Andrei (Vladimir Garin) and Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov); they're just along for the ride.

The third member of our group is their estranged father (Konstantin Lavronenko), who's never mentioned by name and just as mysterious to the young boys. He's recently come back into their lives after a 12-year absence; in fact, Ivan's young enough that he has no memory of the man. Surprisingly, their mother (Natalia Vdovina) agrees to the proposed trip, initially a fishing excursion that gradually devolves into a tense, emotionally manipulative test of manhood on their father's part. The more passive Andrei, though wary of his "new" father, wants acceptance and isn't afraid to take more abuse than most teenagers might put up with. Ivan, on the other hand, is having none of it: he's dismissive of his father's commands and, for the most part, isn't afraid to stand up to him. Naturally, Andrei and Ivan's vastly different degrees of acceptance turn them against each other as well, and it's safe to say that things get very, very ugly.

Whether you view The Return as a straightforward drama or as a socio-political or religious allegory (the latter is discussed in depth here), it's obvious that Andrey Zvyagintsev took a great deal of care with his first shot at a feature-length film. Only four main or supporting characters are featured here, and it's obvious that the careful casting paid off because each one leaves a lasting impression. (Tragically, Vladimir Garin, who plays the older son, died in a swimming accident just a few months after filming was completed.) So too does the outstanding cinematography, the sparse but memorable music cues by Andrei Dergatchev, and the weathered but undeniably beautiful landscapes filmed in northwest Russia and the Gulf of Finland. All things considered, The Return is a film that absolutely defies its modest budget and lingers in your mind for several days afterward, a true "total package" production that far exceeds the sum of its parts.

I picked up The Return on DVD as a blind buy back in 2004 based on the high marks by DVD Talk reviewer-turned-editor John Sinnott, and found it to be a tough but emotionally rewarding watch. It's a striking, memorable film aided by great characters, a heavy atmosphere, and strong performances by all three main characters. The DVD's only weak point was its 480p transfer, rife with interlacing, a problem thankfully corrected on Kino's welcome new Blu-ray. It also features lossless audio and an in-depth behind-the-scenes documentary originally made for the DVD, plus a new retrospective interview with director Andrey Zvyagintsev. Simply put, this is an unforgettable film that's held up perfectly well.

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this new 1080p transfer of The Return looks substantially better than Kino's 2004 DVD (which was, just for the record, poorly compressed and suffered from major interlacing problems). These issues don't return, and there's a major boost in overall image detail, textures, and dynamic contrast levels afforded by what could only be a fresh scan of the original negative. The Return is a low-budget production but one with great visuals and location footage, and the added level of detail only makes the film that much more immersive during its more intense moments. The only drawback here is an obvious push towards cyan/teal, which seems to be the norm these days and is especially pronounced at times. Even Kino's DVD offered a cold and subdued color palette, but this is pushed even further into "trendy color" territory though it's far and away the best The Return has ever looked on home video.

NOTE: The images on this page do not necessarily represent the title under review.

Luckily, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is less controversial: it's simply a more enveloping version of the Dolby 5.1 mix from Kino's DVD. Dialogue, sound effects, and Andrei Dergatchev's soundtrack are all well-balanced without fighting for attention, while the rear channels and subwoofer are used sparingly but to great effect during music cues, suspenseful moments, and extreme weather conditions. A mixed-down 2.0 lossless track is also included, as well as optional English subtitles during the film and extras for translation only (oddly enough, the opening credits are not subtitled).

Kino's interface is smooth and simple, with quick loading time and separate options for chapter selections, audio/subtitle setup, and bonus features. This one-disc release arrives in a standard non-eco keepcase with reversible, poster-themed cover artwork and also includes a Digital Copy redemption slip (is this a new thing for the studio?).

The only new bonus feature is an exclusive Interview with director Andrey Zvyagintsev (12 minutes); topics of discussion include his early ambitions as an actor, seeing Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura for the first time, devouring foreign films during the 1990s, a chance to direct his first feature-length film with The Return, the long casting process, Vladimir Garin's untimely death only weeks before the film's theatrical release, symbolism, and much more. It's an all-too-brief but extremely enjoyable chat, so fans of the film will appreciate hearing these candid retrospective comments.

Also returning from Kino's 2004 DVD is an hour-long documentary "The Return: A Film About the Film" and the Theatrical Trailer. Unfortunately, we miss out on three still galleries, which were worth including in some form. Otherwise, this is a solid assortment of extras, even though a new commentary or more interviews would have put it over the top.

One of the finest directorial debuts of its decade, Andrey Zvyagintsev's The Return is a potent, suspenseful drama with a small cast of memorable characters, rugged Russian landscapes, and no shortage of twists, turns, and heartbreak. This is simply a great film that I'm glad has been treated well on domestic home video: Kino's 2004 DVD had a few technical flaws, but The Return instantly captured my attention and I was happy to have that disc in my collection. Kino offers a major A/V boost on their new Blu-ray and, potential color issues aside, it's a stronger release in every department and even includes a brand new retrospective interview with the director. It's certainly worth picking up for established fans and curious newcomers alike, especially now that the DVD is long out of print. Highly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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