I have only just learnt that Zvyagintev's The Return was his feature film debut. It really impressed me with it's sparse and elusive narrative, filled with mystery and ambiguity. It is visually spectacular, with a strong Eastern European aesthetic that one can't look away from. The Banishment is no less a film. This is a much more ambitious effort than Zvyagintev's debut. Again he has crafted a story that is highly enigmatic. It stars Konstantin Lavronenko, who played the role of the absent father returned in The Return. Alex is a man with a shady past and his brother Mark (Aleksandr Baluyev) is of the same ilk. When Alex's wife, Vera (Maria Bonnevie), reveals she is pregnant and that he is not the father, a sequence of events unfolds that will have you on the edge of your seat. "If you want to kill, kill. If you want to forgive, forgive", says Mark. The tension is palpable, magnified by the sparse dialogue. In one sense, words are not needed as the body language says it all. Yet in another, the inability of the protagonists to bring out into the open what needs to be said leads to unforeseen consequences. This is both thematically similar to Nuri Bilge Ceylan's similarly excellent Three Monkeys and stylistically they also share much in common. As in Ceylan's films, Zvyagintev shows great confidence in telling a story, taking his time to create a palpable ambiance. At 157 minutes, the film is quite long, but always engaging. The cinematography is stunning throughout, with excellent use of the widescreen. There is one tracking shot in particular that left me breathless as the camera seemingly floated through space. I can recall only twice where the camera movement impressed me so: the caravan sequence in Noise and the various tracking shots in Soy Cuba. The use of darkness, light and shade are used to great effect. The music is haunting, reminding me of the Gothic sounds of the music of Enigma. It renders the film with a sense of tragedy of biblical proportions. Zvyagintev is a magnificent talent that just can't be ignored. If you see only one Russian film this year, make it The Banishment.
Drama / Romance
Drama / Romance
A trip to the pastoral countryside reveals a dark, sinister reality for a family from the city.
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April 5, 2019