Director Liza Johnson's debut film, "Return" hits theaters in a limited release Friday.
The story of a woman who comes back to her Rust Belt Ohio hometown following a military tour of duty stars Linda Cardellini ("Freaks and Geeks" and "ER"), Michael Shannon ("Boardwalk Empire") and John Slattery ("Mad Men"). "Return" premiered in the Directors' Fortnight at last year's Cannes Film Festival.
In the film, Cardellini's character, Kelli, is having a hard time readjusting to civilian life. While she relishes being able to once again enjoy simple things, like pushing her baby in a store shopping cart, relaxing in the backyard and sipping a beer, she's simultaneously detached herself from her loved ones in many ways.
The factory job she held for 12 years is suddenly meaningless. She has trouble concentrating. When her friends prod her for details about her deployment, she non-descriptively tells them there are others who had it worse. And, in an immense credit to the director, the film contains no flashbacks. There is no political agenda.
Here's what Vieira and Cardellini told CNN about the film, produced in part by Meredith Vieira Productions:
"When I read the script," Cardellini told CNN, "I really liked the way the character evolved. It was the tiny details and the silences and not some catastrophic flashback. I really liked how they treated the character. I thought it was a really interesting character to play as an actress and she is just a huge and gorgeous role. And I also felt it was something I wanted to educate myself on more. It was something that was happening - was relevant. If you are involved in the military, which most of us are not, we tend to hear about it or see it on the news, but can't understand what it's like being there."
Cardellini expressed her admiration for first-time director Johnson, who "keeps most of the performances in the story restrained and lets the audience fill in the blanks about what may or may not have happened."
Cardellini signed on to play Kelli more than a year before cameras started rolling, which the actress said gave her "the luxury of time to learn about things and meet people and talk to people. We spoke to psychologists who told us some people don’t have one specific trauma that defines their disassociation or dislocation when they come home."
In preparation for the role, Cardellini and Johnson spoke to a psychologist who donated her time to the film, visited VA hospitals.
"I sat with people who had come back," said Cardellini. "Some had gone through PTSD, some who had not, some who were being redeployed, some who were happy about it. Men and women. It really ran the gamut. It was important for us to understand as much as we could and, hopefully, pay respect to their experiences."
Vieira, for whom "Return" is her production company's first film venture, told CNN that the script struck her because "you see stories about soldiers returning and it's usually from a male perspective, and also with flashbacks that sort of demonstrate the horror of war... we liked that this was from a female point of view, which you don't often see."
Vieira also noted that the film's subtlety drew her to the project as well.
"You never quite know what she saw or didn't see," said Vieira. "That subtlety, to us, was important because it suggested that you don't have to be in the midst of horror to have something affect you, and obviously she was affected enough by her experience that she felt this real disassociation. She tried to re-group but couldn't; sort of emulating the famous 'You can never go home again' saying."
"Return" is playing at some theaters in New York and Los Angeles starting today, and will be available via iTunes February 28.
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