The Return
directed by Asif Kapadia
(Universal, 2006)

As The Return begins, a father is spending some quality time with his 11-year-old daughter at an outdoor carnival. The girl is spooked by something, and her father mentions to one of the vendors that she hasn't been quite the same since the car crash....

Fifteen years later the girl, Joanna (Sarah Michelle Gellar), is grown and about to travel back to her hometown of LaSalle, Texas, for the first time in years to close her first big sales deal. She does so, but almost immediately after her arrival she begins suffering from migraines and nightmares, and she periodically imagines herself in real places that she has never been. She also finds herself inexplicably drawn to a man the other locals warn her is dangerous.

The Return struck me as having a decidedly Eastern sensibility, because of both its nonlinear structure and its spiritual nature. It also does not lay things out plainly for the viewer -- though neither is it as ambiguous as it might first seem. I very much like films that make me think, even more if they keep me thinking about them after they are over.

What I don't like are films that string me along for 80 minutes without any idea of what's going on, or at least a feeling that it is building up to something. A brief scene in which Joanna visits her father (Sam Shepard) brings with it hope of some kind of clue, but it is over before we learn anything useful. The truth about Joanna's condition is revealed in the last few minutes of the film, but the story doesn't appear to make any sense at all until that point. I suspect the film would play better on a second viewing. The first was frustrating and confusing, without being particularly interesting or involving.

This movie will probably appeal most to fans of Asian cinema (of which I am one), especially the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and I was also reminded of the Pang Brothers' Eye films at times. There is a really good idea here, but it's not given enough substance to make a satisfying feature-length picture. Had it been about a half-hour shorter and more tightly written, I think it would have been more effective.

review by
Scott Promish

2 February 2008

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