THE RETURN is an enigmatic fable concerning two young brothers taken on a
fateful fishing trip by their long-lost father. It was to be a film tinged by tragedy.
Tom Dawson reports.
he Russian drama The Return won the much-
coveted Golden Lion prize at last year‘s Venice
festival but celebrations for its first-time Russian director Andrei '/.vyagintsev (pictured) were tempered by the fact that one of the film‘s lead actors. 15-year-old Vladimir Garin. had recently drowned on a lake near St Petersburg. ‘Vladimir never saw The Return on a big screen.‘ explains Zvyagintsev through an interpreter. ‘lt happened a year to the day that filming had begun. He was with friends sailing in a rubber boat. He dived into the water in the middle and he drowned. Nobody knows why. although there are some suspicions. because it was a small lake. only six metres deep. and when the divers started looking for him. they found his body very easily.‘
Originally a theatre actor. Zvyagintsev has no formal film training. Prior to The Return he made some television commercials which he says ‘helped me to get an idea of how films were made‘. and he also directed a trio of short thrillers for a Russian television series. He and his producer Dmitry Lesnevsky then started looking at feature scripts and were sent a screenplay written by Vladimir Moiseenko and Alexander Novototsky. ‘It was a very unusual. even extraordinary story.‘ says the filmmaker of The Return. ‘The dialogue was very interesting and conjured up very precise images which stayed with you. although we removed a lot of the dialogue when it came to the shoot. The most important realisation came four months after reading the script. when I began to understand how I could interpret it. I realised there could be a religious dimension to the film and I worked on it with real passion.’
Zvyagintsev begins to talk about the various layers of The Return. mentioning its echoes of Greek
26 THE LIST 24 Jun—8 Jul 2004
‘IT'S A MISTAKE IF WE THINK THAT WHAT IS HAPPENING TO US IS HAPPENING TO US FOR THE FIRST TIME. IT'S ALWAYS BEEN HAPPENING AND ALWAYS WILL HAPPEN'
tragedies and its allusions to stories from both the Old and the New Testaments. Yet he refrains from expanding on these references in our interview. perhaps wary of fixing preferred meanings on the film before viewers have watched it themselves. And lots of viewers. he says. are more concerned with plot details than metaphorical readings. ‘They always ask me at Q&As what‘s in the strongbox that the father digs up. or they ask me where his character comes from.‘
But the director admits that. in The Return, he was drawn to a mythical style of storytelling. ‘because in all our lives ancient myths live in us and connect us and circulate among us. It's what the Bible calls the unseen world. the laws that dictate to us certain of our actions. It‘s a mistake if we think that what is happening to us is happening to us for the first time. It‘s always been happening and always will happen.’
The modestly budgeted 40-day shoot sounds like it was a gruelling experience. especially given the perennial problems of filming on water. added to the fact that the camera had to be carried by hand up and down a 20 foot high observation towers for key scenes. Nevertheless Zvyagintsev feels he was blessed with meteorological assistance for The Return. On day one in the region in which he was filming around St Petersburg. there were torrential downpours. He feared the worst. but it didn‘t rain again for the duration of the shoot. ‘We were so lucky.‘ he smiles. ‘Somebody from that area said that it was like a miracle. because that had never happened in his lifetime.’
The Return is on selected release from Fri 25 Jun. See review, page 29.
Lights, camera, action. . . YEAH, IT’S COMPETITION TIME again! Optimum Releasing, the Edinburgh International Film Festival and BBC 4 have a set of all six films from the 2003 Discoveries Film Programme to give away. It includes Angela, The Man of the Year, Histories Minimas, Broken Wings, Dragonflies and Blind Shaft. Films being released as part of Discoveries 2004 include Since Otar Left (see review, page 29), A Thousand Months and Memories of Murder. All you have to do to win this terriﬁc prize is to name the actor who played the young hitman in the Brazilian film, The Man of the Year. Answers via email marked ‘Discoveries’ to promotions©list.co.uk. Usual List rules apply.
IT'S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN when the media and arts students ply their wears and show the world exactly what it is they’ve been working on between drinking subsidised booze. Always a cut above the average is the Edinburgh College of Art, Film 8. TV Degree Show (Thu 24 .Jun) programme of graduation films containing the usual eclectic mix. Also don't miss the ECA‘s Animation Degree Show (Wed 30 Jun & Thu 1 Jul). lts impressive films this year range from views of a monster’s cave to a recreation of the killing fields of Cambodia.
ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF the so far announced films to be shown at this year’s EIFF has to be Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, a feature length extension of the series of short films Jarmusch spent the 905 occasionally working on. It stars Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and Steve Coogan. Watch these pages for an exclusive interview with Jarmusch, the walking god of independent US cinema.
The Man of the Year