Sunday, 31 January 2010

'If you want to kill, kill.'

Izgnanie (The Banishment)

Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev

The story is simple: a criminal gets in trouble, so retreats to the countryside with his family – here his wife makes a confession – setting in motion a tragedy. Alex, the film's protagonist played by Konstantin Lavroneko carries a reserved demeanour to the extent that it is intimidating to an audience. Set in the Russian countryside (though filmed in Moldavia and Belgium) the film is full of meandering hills and barren planes. Everything about this film is laconic; the performances are succinct, the frames feel as if they have been deliberated over and over again as Zvyaginstev strives for perfection, some of the compositions are simply stunning. The interiors of the cars, the houses, the landscapes– are rich in detail, and portray a different world to the west.

Car chases are great in films – see The French Connection and Ronin - but The Banishment suggests that the most powerful scene involving a car in a narrative sense is when you have two characters in a stationary car just talking. The scene in question allows the camera and actors just to focus on each other – no distraction. Case in here point, Alex asks his brother, Mark, what action should be taken after digesting some new events. Mark replies:

Whatever you do will be right.
If you want to kill, kill.
The gun's in the dresser upstairs.
Then, that's right.
If you want to forgive, forgive.
Then, that's right.

The camera majestically moves between each character developing a tension and malevolence between the brothers. It's impressive and the film should be viewed for this scene alone.

The film is full of religious undertones – children piecing a jigsaw together of an angel visiting the virgin Mary, revealing that she will give birth to little baby Jesus – cue a black cat walking over the jigsaw, with choir girls singing. It's all dramatic and beautiful. The lives of Russian criminals is a world unknown to me and it is mesmerising to see how these people operate.


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