Retornos @ Montreal World Film Festival

Like many noir type films before it not everything in Luis Aviles's film is as it seems. Superficially you could say that this is a film about an attempted reunion between a father and a daughter. But that would be really simplifying matters and shortchanging the participants in the film and those thinking of going to see it.

We witness a car accident involving Alvaro (Xavier Estevez) in which a woman is killed. It happens after the car falls into a body of water somewhere in Spain and she drowns. Alvaro survives and no one around him seems very happy about that.

Then it flashes forward ten years to Alvaro living in Geneva, Switzerland and owning a garage. His solitary existence is shattered when he gets a call from his twenty-year-old estranged daughter Mar (Manuela Velles) that his father is dying and wants to see him. Alvaro hops into his car and starts making the long drive to Spain.

When he arrives in his small village he sees a hearse outside the family house. Alvaro is too late; his father has already died. There is plenty of tension between Alvaro and Mar, Alvaro and his ex-wife Eliza (Maria Bouzas) and even Alvaro and his older brother, Xosé (Xosé Manuel Oliveira – The Sea Inside). When he passes by to see his brother, due to a voice recording his father left him saying he is not well, Xosé orders him away and tells Alvaro if he comes back that he will beat him up.

Alvaro retreats to the small seaside house that his father left to him. He attempts to repair his relationship with his daughter, but she does not seem to interested claiming she is busy with school. Having run up against a roadblock at every turn Alvaro decides to go back to Geneva.

While leaving the village he runs into, literally with his car, Mar's friend Lidia (Yoima Valdes) who works as a prostitute at his ex-wife's husband Nestor's (Emilio Gutierrez Caba – Dance With Me) club. Lidia is dead. She was dead before Alvaro hit her. He goes to the police, an investigation ensues and Alvaro must stay in town a while longer.

The death of Lidia intrigues Alvaro and gives him a chance to bond with his daughter. The two begin investigating the circumstances surrounding it.

While watching the film at times I felt as if I was on a need to know basis. More and more of the backstory involving Alvaro and the accident gets revealed to the watcher as the film goes on. You'll have plenty of "aha" moments as a result. This type of storytelling really amplifies the mystery and tension of the picture. That coupled with the dark tone of the story makes director Aviles's fall comfortably into the modern version of film noir.

Nothing and no one in the film is what they seem to be as like an onion more and more layers are pulled away to reveal the truth. It is a film that will keep you guessing. Even when you think that the film is over it goes on for another 15 minutes. And these are the best, most tense 15 minutes of the film, so make sure you have your wits about you.

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