The Return Andrey Zvyagintsev

Moody and haunting, The Return is a Russian drama about two sons reluctantly embarking on a weekend camping trip with their estranged father. For 12 years, the adolescent boys have carried on without their dad until their mother convinces their father to return home and spend time with his children. Though the older lad, Andrei, wants to bond with his dad, his little brother, Vanya, openly detests him.

The father is cold, sometimes cruel and even violent — when the younger boy, Vanya (a perfectly rebellious Ivan Dobronravov), whines about not getting enough time to fish, his father leaves him stranded by a shallow creek in a downpour. When the boys return three hours late from fishing in a boat, the father slugs Andrei, sparking Vanya's temper.

At times, the father's affection bubbles to the surface: he tries to teach his boys how to fight so they can protect themselves from thieves. He also tries to instil discipline into their impulsive behaviour, making them work as a team pitching tents and building a camp. However, even his tenderness comes across as awkward and cold.

Konstantin Lavronenko does a superb job of portraying a hard man trying to connect with his estranged sons. Dobronravov, in particularly, is believable as the angry yet vulnerable adolescent. (In a tragic irony, Vladimir Garin, who played Andrei, drowned exactly a year after filming in a small boat similar to the one in this film.)

The film is meditative and slow, forcing the viewer to absorb the characters as the story unfolds. Though the father comes across as mysterious, he remains too much of an enigma — we know he's a criminal but for doing what? Why does he dig a chest out of the ground? Who does he speak to in clipped tones on his cell phone? We never know.

Alienation between fathers and sons is a universal condition and The Return captures that distance with intelligence and emotion. (Mongrel Media)