…the walls wouldn’t have to do it for them. That could be the moral of Andrei Zvyagintsev’s second feature film, The Banishment (Izgnanie, 2009) in a nutshell.
Never since Werner Herzog shot films in Peru have the actual, real surroundings been characters in a film. Each scene is carefully composed and shot to perfection, without seeming composed or fake. The colors are breathtaking without being obvious or striking. In both rural and urban settings, this exquisitely photographed film effectively speaks, thinks and breaths in images. It threatens with long shots of empty hills, it meditates on death with the strange church and the cemetery on the hill, it suffocates with the large remains of a soviet factory, it mourns and goes mad by following a rain puddle, and so on. Also, apartment and house interiors are alive, even if sad and dim and grey. They express more than the people who walk around and live in them, people who on the surface seem related to each other but in reality are strangers mimicking furniture. A boy says he cut open a doll’s head to see what was inside. He found nothing. So his mother smilingly asks: “What did you expect to find?” The director has clearly seen too many Tarkovskij films (for example, when rain flows through junk, you cannot help but feel in Stalker’s Zone), so you’ll have to be patient with him in terms of plot. A family drama unfolds slowly, painfully, with too many things left unsaid. While it seems that the hills and houses and wooden bridges and trains talk, the characters cannot seem to communicate with each other, which inevitably will lead to tragedy. The director seems to have chosen to express their bonds or connections or estrangements by mechanical sound (that of a phone ringing or a train passing by) rather than by genuine dialogue.
This is the second film of director Andrei Zvyagintsev after the excellent The Return (Vozvrashchenie, 2003). I wonder how Norwegian beauty from Reconstruction, Maria Bonnevie ended up in this one. No complaints though, first class acting from all actors.