Andrei Zvyagintsev follows up The Return with another hypnotically beautiful and emotionally captivating tale of a loving marriage undone by masculine pride.
Andrei Zvyagintsev follows up The Return, his widely acclaimed and Golden Lion-winning Russian road movie, with another hypnotically beautiful and emotionally captivating tale of a loving marriage undone by masculine pride.
A collaborative adaptation between Oleg Negin, Artyom Melkumian and Zvyagintsev from William Saroyan’s short story 'The Laughing Matter' (though only the bare bones are used), it allows the director ample scope to display his skills as a master of mood and ambiguity.
After a 12-year absence, married couple Alex (Konstantin Lavronenko) and Vera (Bergman veteran Maria Bonnevie) leave their industrial home and return with their two children to the remote country house owned by Alex’s father. The home, though modest in appearance, is located in an idyllic-seeming spot, nestled amidst rolling hills, walnut trees and fertile land.
Back in the city is Alex’s brother Mark (Aleksandr Baluyev), whose dubious credentials and nefarious way of life are suggested by the gunshot wound he sports in his arm. When Vera makes an unforeseen confession, Alex, a man from a family pre-disposed towards fracture and heartache, faces a moral dilemma. But in enlisting his brother's help he unleashes a tragic and unstoppable chain of events.
Illuminating the dark soul of the Russian male, The Banishment is stunning in both conception and execution. Establishing from the very outset a foreboding and suffocating sense of inevitability and dread, the film’s relocation from a grey and rain-sodden milieu to more open surroundings (Belgium, Northern France and Moldova provide the film’s locations) only temporarily alleviates the feeling that something very grave is about to occur.
return to the city, astonishingly realised, offers grim confirmation. Zvyagintsev describes his film as being about "kind, beautiful people in the tragic circumstances of hopelessness" and it is difficult to conjure a more accurate and articulate précis.
The Banishment is magnificently shot by Mikhail Krichman, the cinematographer on The Return, and a collaborator described by the director as his "comrade in arms", while the soundtrack is equally impressive and expressive. Combining the work of Andrei Dergachyov and Arvo Pärt – the Estonian composer whose work regularly appears in the films of Carlos Reygadas – the use of score and music is equally evocative of David Lynch and Alexander Sokurov.
Compellingly presented and performed by an ensemble cast in which Maria Bonnevie, the only non-Russian, marginally shades the acting honours, this is filmmaking of the very highest order.
The Return is one of the modern masterpieces of Russian cinema.
A hypnotic and mesmerising work that is as emotionally resonant as it is technically brilliant.
One frequently experiences the sensation that this is what cinema was invented for.