The Banishment

The Banishment


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Alex, Vera, and their two children, Kir and Eva, seem like the perfect happy family. We know that Alex has been involved in some shady dealings in the city, and that his brother, Mark has criminal connections, but Mark himself feels it's best to stay away from the family and Alex has taken them out into the countryside, to the house which was once his father's, to live a simpler life. However in the manner of Classical tragedy it is the simple, fundamental things in life which prove to be the most dangerous. In their isolation, Alex and Vera both experience frustration, prompting her to make a startling confession. Confounded, furious, not knowing which way to turn, Alex is propelled into a series of actions which will change everything.

With so much drama at its heart, The Banishment is at times a painfully slow film. It's par for the course for great Russian fiction but will nevertheless frustrate some Western viewers. What saves it during these stretches is magnificent technical work. It's lovingly shot in deceptively muted shades, the colours one scarcely sees like the fragments of other people's souls which we overlook when we perceive them only in relevance to our own lives. Its sound design is the best I've encountered for years and brings the whole thing to life in a very visceral way, really creating the sensation of being there. This is sound and vision crafted not simply for the sake of beauty (though it certainly works on that level), but for the solid contribution it can make to this deceptively complex moral fable.

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A number of critics have complained about the ending of this film. It's one of those moments when everything shifts not for the sake of a shocking twist but on a much more fundamental level, one which will make you question everything that has been said and done and felt before. There's a change in style and expectation which will change you as it changes Alex. This is apparently too religious (read: too literary) for some people, but without it the film would be just another familiar tale of family disintegration - the ending, and what it says about that, is the whole point. It elevates The Banishment far beyond what you might expect from similar cinematic dramas.

The Banishment is not a perfect film. The lead performances are good but there's some weak child acting, despite the great script the young performers are given, which breaks the flow at a point where the viewer really needs to be drawn in. Parts of the story are unnecessarily obscure in a way which reduces the impact if important scenes. But if you're willing to overlook this, and to be patient with its rambling pace, you're in for a real treat.

Reviewed on: 13 Aug 2008
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A family falls apart in an isolated house, precipitating an investigation into the nature of love.
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Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev

Writer: Artyom Melkumian, based on the book by William Saroyan.

Starring: Maria Bonnevie, Konstantin Lavronenko, Aleksandr Baluyev, Maksim Shibayev,

Year: 2007

Runtime: 157 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Russia


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