A feature from director Andrey Zvyagintsev, the Russian film “The Return,” debuting in the Finger Lakes at the Smith Opera House on Oct. 8, blends Andrei Tarkosvky's existential bleakness with Alfred Hitchcock's cool suspense.
Brothers Andrei (Vladimir Garin), 15, and Ivan (Ivan Dobronravov), 13, spend their summer days playing with other boys. They climb a high tower, dare each other to jump into the lake below and, when Ivan is too scared, call the younger boy a coward. Even Andrei.
The brothers' subsequent squabble ends back at home when their mother (Natalia Vdovina) tells them to be quiet or they'll wake their napping dad.
The boys' response: “Who?”
This father (Konstantin Lavronenko), known by no other name, has been missing for 12 years. What has he been doing? Where has he come from? “He just came,” their mother sighs.
Early the next morning, he leaves again, taking Ivan and Andrei with him on a vaguely delineated trip. One minute it seems to be a fishing excursion, the next some unexplained business venture.
The vacation starts tensely and gets worse. Andrei, burgeoning into teenhood, seems a little impressed by his father's gruff masculinity. Ivan, on the other hand, is increasingly hostile, questioning if this guy is even their own flesh-and-blood.
The movie tells us almost nothing more about the father than what the boys see. He won't eat fish because he ate too much of it once, somewhere “far away.” His wife told her sons he was a pilot, but he seems more at ease on the sea than in the air. Like Andrei and Ivan, we don't know if he's dangerous or just bad at handling kids with anything but rough discipline.
Once this prickly trio arrive at their final destination — a lush, unpopulated island in the Gulf of Finland — we finally see what the father is looking for. Hitchcock would smile at the way Zvyagintsev treats this item as the ultimate Macguffin, a missing object that sets a movie's plot in motion but proves to be entirely irrelevant.
The Smith Opera House screens “The Return” at 7 p.m. Oct. 8 and 9, at 2 p.m. Oct.10 and at 7 p.m. Oct. 11 and 12. It has a running time of one hour 46 minutes. In Russian with English subtitles, it is not rated.
Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. All seats are $2 on Tuesdays. Call 315-781-5483 or toll-free 866-355-5483 for details or to reserve tickets.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.