Screened as part of NZIFF 2004
A new master of Russian cinema appeared unheralded at last year's Venice Film Festival and took the top prize unopposed, for this formidable, deeply involving first film. Two teenage brothers, living with their mother, are astonished when their father returns after a 12-year absence and takes them away on a mysterious trip. Just what does he want from them? The film keeps us as alert and uncertain as theu are. The younger boy's hostility to the father's intrusion is vividly nuanced, while the older boy's ambivalence, caught between protecting his little brother and wanting to get to know and impress the surly, secretive father, is intensely moving. The elemental nature of the mystery at the heart of the film is accentuated by the intense simplicity of the natural settings – lake, plain, island, forest, rain – and by the mythic structure of their journey.
"The film so catches you up in its compelling story, you're almost not aware of how masterful a piece of cinema you're watching... An examination of the complex, frustrating, unavoidable bonds between fathers and sons, the film goes to a deeper, more profoundly emotional place than its surface gifts would necessarily predict... Perhaps because Zvyagintsev is a former actor, he has drawn formidable performances out of the two young people who play the film's sons. Vladimir Garin as older brother Andrey and Ivan Dobronravov as younger sibling Ivan not only create a convincing on-screen familial bond, their ability and willingness to get down to raw emotions makes their work as real as it can get." — Kenneth Turan, LA Times