It's difficult to imagine Andrey Zvyagintsev's remarkable debut movie The Return springing from a country other than Russia. It contains that spare yet bewildering psychological and spiritual depth that is a hallmark of Russian mysticism and which uniquely identifies their literature (e.g. any novel by Dostoyevsky) and film.
After over eleven years, a father returns to his wife and two sons, Andrey and Vanya. He immediately takes his boys on a fishing trip, giving the boys the opportunity to meet the father figure they never had. The journey they take across the sparse Russian landscape is symbolic, of course, and the entire movie has a mythic feel, yet the performances by each actor create characters that feel specific and real. The long continuous shots and iconic framing of images such as the son's first view of their father asleep in bed bestows upon the movie the elusive and haunting quality of a Biblical fable rendered in human terms. The Russians have always found in their daily lives a spiritual significance foreign to those like myself who have grown up with a more secular worldview.
The movie is layered with mystery. On one level, his sons wonder why their father is taking them on this long fishing trip, and the intentions of his quest are hidden from the audience as well. At another level, Andrey and Vanya wonder why he left in the first place, why he returned, and whether he truly loves them. This is not a Hollywood movie, so the answers to each are not clear cut, though the ending is stunning.
I missed The Return at Sundance and was glad to catch it in its penultimate day on screen in Seattle. Recommended if it is available on a screen near you.
Footnote: Tragically, a few weeks after the movie wrapped filming, 15 year old actor Vladimir Garin, who plays Andrey, drowned while swimming across the lake where much of the movie was shot.