Andrey Zvyagintsev’s The Return is a stunning, elusive film from Russia about the mysterious, unresolvable bonds and dissonances between fathers and sons. Or something like that—I’m really not completely sure as to the film’s meanings, and a Q&A with the director in the production notes I received is almost a parody of an artist acting evasive. The plot is simple: two brothers in early adolescence meet their father for the first time when he drops in unannounced. He takes the boys to a remote island on what is ostensibly a fishing trip, but which clearly has an ulterior—and never revealed—purpose. The brothers chafe under their stranger/father’s autocratic and at times irrational control, and begin to fight with each other as well. Tragedy of a typically cryptic nature intervenes.
Zvyagintsev may not tip his hand about what he’s up to in The Return, but there’s no question that his directorial debut signals the arrival of a genuine talent. The building tension between the three characters is excruciatingly well calibrated, and the sense of isolation the director creates in frame after frame establishes a somber mood, to say the least. Comparisons to the films (Andrei Rublev, Solaris) of late Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, who was always good at conjuring an atmosphere of understated despair, seem obvious. But Zvyagintsev, working with what appears to be a fantastically gifted cinematographer in Mikhail Krichman, makes the beautiful, empty, mist-enshrouded Russian landscape (mostly, at Lake Ladoga and the Bay of Finland north of St. Petersburg) more of a presence here than even Tarkovsky managed. I’m still not sure how to interpret The Return, but two months after seeing it, the images are still firmly planted in my head.--John Calhoun
Seen at BAM: The Brooklyn Academy of Music has presented the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company for quite a few years now. Anyone who remembers the early days of the Next Wave Festival will remember the impact of Secret Pastures. Some 20 years later (can it be that long?) the company is still going strong and in fact, is celebrating its 20th season with The Phantom Project, partly a tribute to the late Arnie Zane and partly a tribute to the staying power and unending creativity of Bill T. Jones. The program I saw at BAM last Friday night included the world premiere of Chaconne, an emotionally-charged solo choreographed and danced by Bill T. Jones, and the New York premiere of Reading, Mercy and The Artificial Nigger, a piece ready to explode with power and meaning. The two were linked together by video clips from 1990, including Jones' mother leading us in prayer. While god and racism are not the usual fodder for modern dance companies, Jones has always been provocative, both in his movement and his actions. Lighting for all the works is by Robert Wierzel who has worked with the company for over 18 years. In Chaconne, a large projection screen in a letterbox shape glows white at first with Jones almost in silhouette against it, his gestures and shapes against the backdrop. The light changes to illuminate Jones more as video images of him begin to dance on the screen, accompanying him like a digital ghost. The screen goes purple (it's the lighting, says Wierzel) with video images in white. Jones' costume, by Liz Prince is a simple pair of navy blue pants and sleeveless navy shirt. The video images are by Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar with the decor by Bjorn Amelan. As the program segues into the video section, a scrim comes in, as the video ends, stagehands set 10 wooden folding chairs on the stage for the final piece, Reading, Mercy and The Artificial Nigger, based on a short story by Flannery O'Connor. This time, Prince's costumes put the men and women in trousers and shirts with suspenders (braces, as they call them in the UK). Various pairs of dancers play the various roles in the story. The decor includes a large round moon that also serves at various moments as the sun, and a projection disk. Once again, many of color changes and images on the "moon" come from the lighting, with Wierzel using a tight focus with no spill whatsoever onto the backdrop. This is a case where the power of the choregraphy and the dancing is framed by lighting that is equalling compelling - seems like a great collaboration by two great artists, one who excels on stage in the spotlight, the other who provided the spotlights but never steps into the light.---Ellen Lampert-Gréaux