“One should not talk about but suggest
what is of real importance.”
Venice Film Festival 2003. Among the films entered in the competition is the debut of a young, unknown Russian director. His name is Andrey Zvyagintsev, the title of the film “The Return”.
Greeted by ovations at its premiere, “The Return” sends the international press into raptures and wins the Golden Lion for Best Film. Since then it has been shown in cinemas around the world and showered with European and American awards.
“One of the main ideas of the film
is that of the eternal return,
of a certain natural cycle of life
in which things come back
to the starting point.”
The Russian province seems deserted; a dark lake, surrounded by black rocks, sea gulls crying in the distance. A group of boys jump into the black water, one after the other, from a high tower. Two of them are brothers, and only Ivan, the younger of the two, does not pass the test of courage. He is left behind in the growing dark. Finally, his mother comes and convinces her shivering son to descend the ladder: “You can jump some other time.” But the feeling of failure lingers.
Then the closed life of the family – mother, grandmother and the two boys – is disrupted by a stranger. He appears suddenly and is accepted into their daily routine as if this was the most natural thing in the world. It is the father whom the brothers know only from a yellowed black-and-white photo. When Ivan asks where he has come from, the mother replies, turning her face: “He is simply here.”
But not for long. After a short while, he disappears again, in the company of his sons. What could have been, at first, interpreted as a fatherly gesture – a man taking his sons on an outing – turns out to be an ordeal, the father treating the boys in a cold, authoritative, sometimes even brutal manner. While Ivan observes him with scepticism and dislike, Andrey, the older, willingly fulfils the tasks or trials of courage that the father imposes on both. And the boy’s eyes show his desire to be loved and accepted.
The destination of their journey is a deserted island. Here, too, black water, empty landscape, a high tower. And the turn that the film takes at this point leaves the audience shaken to the core.
“In this movie everything is real: the rain, the sweat, the suffering, the characters. Even time flows here as it does in life, not in the cinema. And everything is primordial: the skyline, the sea, the forest, the fields, and the human relationships. There are few signs of civilization. The heroes are face-to-face with nature and with one another. (...) There is nothing here that rings false.” - Valery Kichin
Zvyagintsev’s aesthetics, in particular his stringently composed pictures, sparse landscapes and his treatment of noise, natural sounds and music, bring to mind the films of Andrey Tarkowsky. Starkly directed and atmospherically dense, “The Return” leaves much room for interpretation.
“Nature here is beautiful and unpredictable: it turns heavily and fast, both on the screen and on a soundtrack rich in ancient, folkloric resonances and written with a pagan energy.” - Valery Kichin
As important as the film’s haunting pictures are the carefully edited soundtrack and the music written by Andrey Dergatchev, which seems to evoke an ancient Russia and reminds us, with its Duduk motives and vocals, of Armenian or Georgian folk songs. These are contrasted with the everyday sounds of modern Russia: voices on the radio and on the streets, announcements at the station, wind and torrential rains threatening to swallow up pedestrians, doors slamming, gulls crying, dogs barking… These sounds, in combination with cinematographer Mikhail Krichman’s highly suggestive pictures, are the film’s trademark, lending it a rhythm all of its own.
The sparse dialogues of the three travellers reflect their loneliness – the sons’ tone of longing for fatherly love, the father’s stern voice of suppressed affection. One senses the fear of intimacy and its irretrievable loss.
Through the soundtrack and even without a knowledge of Russian, one can grasp the emotions and atmosphere of Zvyagintsev’s strange world. ‘Pure’ hearing creates a new kind of understanding.
Only great films are “audible” in this way – and “The Return” is one of them.
"There are not many film-makers, who have the capacity to present you with an experience that still has a moving impact, on another level, when you close your eyes.” - Manfred Eicher on Jean-Luc Godard
Since the publication of the complete soundtrack of Godard’s “Nouvelle Vague”, Manfred Eicher has repeatedly included film projects in his musical catalogue. The greatest of these to date is the award-winning CD edition of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Histoire(s) du Cinéma” which Paul Griffiths described as “a composition in sound where speaking voice folds into orchestra, movie into music, creating an aural river one can enjoy as it comes and remember for its instants of illumination.“ (New York Times) “The Return” continues this river of sound. Here, too, music, dialogue and the sounds of nature blend into one
Andrey Zvyagintsev, film director, was born in Novosibirsk in 1964. Since 1986 he has been living in Moscow. In 1990 he finished his studies at the Moscow drama school GITIS. Zvyagintsev appeared in several independent theatre productions and also worked as an actor in films (“Otraschenije”, 1998). In 2000 he debuted as a director with three short films for the TV series “Black Room”. “The Return” is his first full-length film.
Andrey Dergatchev, soundtrack creator, was born in 1969 in Astrakhan, Russia, and has worked variously as a dancer, light and sound designer, musician and actor as well as composer of music for film, video and ballet. From 1996 he worked at the Theremin Centre of the Moscow Conservatory and has participated in international symposiums devoted to music and new technology including the Concours International Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges in 1997 and 2001. Dergatchev co-founded the Saira Blanch Theatre group in 1991, which has toured widely and collaborates periodically with Austrian interdisciplinary group Lux Flux.