The Banishment (2007, Andrey Zvyagintsev)

The Banishment is a love letter to some of world cinema’s giants. The illusions to Andrei Tarkovsky are immediately obvious: a sequence following a car along drab city streets and roads conjures images of Solaris; the general countryside images cannot fail to remind one of The Mirror; and an astonishing tracking shot – moving almost impossibly through scenery downhill – is reminiscent of scenes from Stalker. Not to mention the use of the elements, especially water.

The plot is more Bergman than Tarkovsky. Alex (Konstantin Lavronenko from Zvyagintsev’s wonderful The Return) is certainly no angel – we first see him taking a bullet out of his brother’s arm. Whatever he’s involved in is probably suspect. We never find out what it is, but perhaps due to this lifestyle, he takes his wife (Maria Bonnevie) and two children to the countryside.

Alex’s world is rocked when Vera tells him one night that she is pregnant and that the child is not his. From here, the disintegration of Alex’s marriage and cultivated family life plays out in slow, methodical fashion.

The Banishment is fairly nebulous. Alex’s life in the city remains a mystery and Vera’s feelings of ennui and listlessness with her long term husband aren’t made clear. There are certainly religious connotations; the theological metaphors are numerous. An overhead shot shows children surrounded by an incomplete puzzle of The Annunciation. The title itself seems to allude to one of the most well known tales of banishment and temptation. A young girl reads a passage from Corinthians and solitary trees are a common visual motif.

The final 40 minutes are a flashback to events alluded to earlier in the narrative. The film screeches to a halt at this point. It feels unnecessary and a mild dramatic twist seems contrived at best and at worst makes some of Vera’s actions in the film proceeding it incredibly difficult to buy into.

Its concern isn’t necessarily in providing clarity in terms of answers, but predominantly as a mood piece and if it wasn’t clear from the opening of this review, The Banishment is a stunning looking film – unquestionably, it looks like a masterpiece. Zvyagintsev’s elegant, graceful camera movements, the long takes and the minimal dialogue all service the film’s visuals and there is something beautiful to gasp at in every frame.

The Banishment has all the beauty and mystery of Zvyagintsev’s The Return but without the emotional heart to give it a bit of propulsion. It also seems at times so indebted to the directing greats that Zvyagintsev threatens to lose his own voice. Nonetheless, the little moments of wonder scattered here-and-there throughout The Banishment make it easy to recommend. (7)


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