Review: The Return (2015)

There was an encouraging significant turn out at the National Museum to watch the Asian Premier of The Return by multi-disciplinary artist Green Zeng -  a Singaporean film on an ex political detainee as he returns to society after years of lost time and opportunities. It was a home-coming of sorts as the film had garnered international attention after having been selected for the Venice International Film Critics’ Week in July 2015.

The pre-text of the film about a political detainee would certainly have given rise to much interest – Singapore’s political sensibilities have increased among today’s millennia generation, and this with against the recent passing of Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, meant the film’s premier was definitely very timely and relevant. The film gives a voice to the human impact of political dissent through a fictional narrative of political detainee returning, and integrating into civilian society – the film sheds light on the challenges, personal sacrifices and the uncertainties of the future. The film certainly took pains in providing a good back story in setting the various scenes.

From a personal perspective, the hardship and emotional impact on immediate loved ones was quite emotional to watch. Broken relationships, lost time, missed opportunities between husband and wife, father and children were all very realistically depicted. Balance was achieved by including broken relationships that needed to be healed (between a repentant father and neglected son), and a more caring father daughter exchange that provided a catalyst for healing.

The daily challenges of re-integrating into today’s society was another aspect that the film did not shy away from. From re-connecting with other ex-political detainees, to media interest, to flashbacks of political movement that hinted at the activities that had probably resulted in political detainment – the audience catches a fuller glimpse into the how the lives of political detainees would have been affected.

The film looks to that an almost documentary approach. It did not provide an opinion on right or wrong, or take sides – keeping very much to presenting situations and allowing the audience to finally come to their own conclusions. Cinematographically, it was beautiful. The camera angles, framing and scenes were beautifully composed and shot. Much credit must be given to the photography team for being able to capture and invoke nostalgia through the use of image.

Perhaps my only comment would be on the pacing of the film. As many of the themes covered - such as relationship difficulties, lost time - are all very familiar and real to the everyday audience, the extensive detail and film time allocated to each felt at times repetitive.  The Return certainly comes at an appropriate time and voice in today’s increasing political awareness.

Review by Ivan Choong
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