Retornos is billed as a thriller, but I would say that the thrill in fact never arrives. There is slow burning-tension, to be sure, but no flashpoint and no ultimate satisfaction once the truth comes to light, so I would be inclined to just call it a moody redemption saga and be done with it.
Not that Retornos is a bad film. It starts out with adequate warning as to its somber, adult themes with its dark palette of blues, olive greens and charcoal grays against mostly rainy skies. And the opening scene is of a funeral with many volumes told between two brothers in the looks that they exchange. This intrigues you enough, giving you the patience for the fairly slow unfolding of back-story to the background score of stormy piano.
The trouble is, there is no payoff. The main character, Alvaro, has done something horrible ten years ago and has been living in Switzerland since. His wounded ex-wife and daughter are now understandably hostile when he arrives at the funeral of his father to their small community in Galicia, northern Spain. His brother, Xose, whom we had seen in the opening scene, is similarly resentful. How does all this tie in to the death of a young woman, a prostitute in the club run by the new husband of Alvaro's ex-wife Elisa? This is revealed while Alvaro tries to uncover the truth behind this death, as he is involved if only by accident.
With the terrible goings-on of a decade ago, the characters' exchanges come off as curiously flat. Alvaro's now-grown daughter Mar, has the onerous task of portraying long-held resentment against an absentee father. In this she is adequate, but for some reason the entire film's mood does not let any character fully flesh out his or her motivations. Xose perhaps gets some bit of leeway here, but again the result is not emotional involvement on the part of the viewer; rather it is the awareness of being just that: a viewer, and not privy to anything more intimate in this difficult and emotionally-scarred set of lives.
The Galician dialect in about half the movie also ensured that I did not understand, increasing my sense of distance. What could have elevated Retornos? I think the crux was that we needed to care about the young dead woman, and we never got the opportunity to do so. Still, if one is in the mood for some dark and turbulent Galician crime-and-redemption on a rainy afternoon, I suppose Retornos will do.
Director: Luis Aviles
Overall rating: 5.5/10