Sunday, December 23, 2007


Cast: Konstantin Lavronenko, Aleksandr Baluyev, Maria Bonnevie
Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev
Runtime: 156 min.
Country: Russia
Rating: *****
Genre: Drama

There is a vast difference between being emotionally inert and being emotionally hollow. As much as Vozvrashcheniye (The Return, 2003) was intense, Andrei Zvyagintsev sophomore feature Izgnanie (The Banishment) is hollow. An emotional hollowness that engulfs us, holding us captive along with these tragic characters. I say captive because I so desperately wanted them to make things up, but our nature and the choices it sometimes leads us to make often renders the tragedy inevitable. There is a great deal of silence in the film; most of these moments between the husband Alexander (Konstantin Lavronenko) and the wife Vera (Maria Bonnevie). As long as a relationship is having constant arguments of any kind, I believe, it is still far from the rocky paths. But once silence creeps in it usually will signal the point of no return.
Izgnanie starts off with a great shot of a car running along a picturesque landscape of the Russian country. Mark (Aleksandr Baluyev) drives to his brother Alexander’s home in the middle of the night where he has his upper-arm suffering from a gun shot wound fixed, and the bullet taken out. The very next day, Alex and his family, relocate to their countryside home amidst the breathtaking serenity of the scenery. Yet, these people are banished from country (Garden of Eden) for there’s no peace in their lives. Silence yes, and a hell of a lot of it. But peace none at all. The urban world and its rush might conceal that silence, but the country has its own to offer. Vera reveals to Alex that she’s pregnant, and the child is not his. Perhaps the external silence is too much for her to bear.
Alexander is a great character and it is a great performance from Lavronenko. A classic case who has been influenced during his growing days and now is himself influential. Perhaps we all are, in varying degrees. In a lesser film he would have been a stoic binary individual, one of those standard-etched characters that respond in only two ways. But what Alex achieves here is to capture an individual who has added layers and layers to conceal himself, to conceal his vulnerability. As against popular conception, the layer addition is somewhat of an involuntary task. The wife has so desperately tried to penetrate those layers and to truly know her husband all her married life. And now the vacuum is too much for her to bear. Not because she is feeling lonely, but she can foresee where her son is being led to. Where her children are being led to. This is an extremely complex portrayal of parenting. Most films that intend to showcase negative parenting are loud and usually exaggerate the effects compressing them into a rather small time frame. This understands what happens and how the nature of a parent, good or bad, is gradually impressed upon the child. An impression that is infinitely complex than being just plain good or bad. Taare Zameen Par is juvenile in its portrayal of the parent; just as no boy is bad I bet there’re few parents who are bad. A father is a child’s hero, always. I can never overestimate the profound influence my father’s persona has had on me. Vera discloses the secret herself in hope of a final attempt at breaking that shell. But it is impenetrable, that shell. It is transparent, but it is impenetrable.
Then there’s the other silence. The one that exist between the two brothers – Mark and Alexander. It is the silence that prospers between two individuals who’re essentially one, the kind who understand the other’s every little action every little word and every little moment. These are two individuals who’ve been together and stayed together every step of the rocky road. And when one experiences a tragedy, it is the other that suffers. It is a great study, the bond between the brothers. As much as I felt captive within the vacuum of the marriage, I would want to be company to these two brothers as they grew up. I would want to know if they share the same secret of brotherly love-respect-hate.
Outside of Tarkovsky’s cinema, I have never experienced such a great blend of serenity and silence. Zvyagintsev is a master, who pulls of every trick of his with mathematical precision. He’s ably accompanied by the cinematography of Mikhail Krichman, his comrade from his debut film, and they create a profound location out of the otherwise ordinary countryside. This is the Garden of Eden, and with a budget that I suspect is as low as the first one (it was under $500,000). But what the results they achieve is worth billions, the landscape here is a character on its own. The camera is essentially still, and even during the occasional instances when it moves, the results are essentially still. This is an extremely beautiful film to look at, and that it is about such painful characters inhabiting a tragic family is all the more ironic. The secret of the breathtaking prowess of the film’s effectiveness, and its screenplay is that it doesn’t go for plot markers. It takes its time, and makes us privy to the drama as it unfolds, almost in real time.
Love is God, it is said. And God is love. And yet, these people who are incapable of overcoming their shortcomings to achieve love for one another is horrifying, to a certain degree. For if God is love, why doesn’t he himself overcome his shortcomings and help these people out of their vacuum.
One of the great films of this year.


Waffen-ss said...

its gud to see that there are people in india who have immense love for foreign films unlike the prosaic and heavily cliched 'bollywood' movies,which i loathe the most as am a paramour of cinema and art. I just read the review of banishment and am going to watch it in few hours time,and luckily andreis first movie the return happens to one of my all time favo.movies which has spectacular cinematography and a powerful cast. :) carry on the good work.

Arthi said...

Interesting. The fact that you cud see through Alexander immed. It's intention for me atleast came forth only during the very latter half which rhwn made the whole experience pretty manipulative. It didn't resonate as the characters or who they set out to be (by Andrei) didn't come across pat!..

Anonymous said...

Great review, but just want to make a pint that there are many movie fans that do not put a great deal of emphases on scenery as so many reviewers like to add. but yours made me want to see it in this film. I thought the movie just did not say very much. Two people who can't communicate and we have to wonder why.