The Banishment



CANNES -- "The Banishment" (Izgnanie) starts off like a thriller with a car roaring into the city and a clandestine surgery by a man to remove a bullet in his brother's arm. Then, ever so slowly, the movie falls into the clutches of long, solemn stares into space, meaningful drags on cigarettes, cryptic dialogue revealing little and a tiny drama that feels old, tired and empty of real purpose.

In other words, Art House Pretension without apology or concern. Director/co-writer Andrei Zvyagintsev has told every journalist who asked he intends to avoid the sophomore jinx that follows a very successful first film. (His "The Return" won Venice and four other festivals in 2003.) He has failed. The only route for "Banishment," which screened In Competition, is banishment to the festival circuit. Commercial prospects are zilch.

Zvyagintsev has taken a story by Armenian-American writer William Saroyan, "The Laughing Matter," and stripped it of any specific nationality, locale, time period or indication of culture other than the obvious fact these are white Europeans at some point in the late 20th century before cell phones and laptops (which leaves you wondering things such as why an abortion must be done in such secret).

Alex (Konstantin Lavronenko), the man who extricated the bullet from the arm of his brother (Alexander Baluev), takes his family to their country home. Cue shots of the glorious rustic life. That night his wife, Vera (Maria Bonnevie), informs him that she is pregnant but the baby isn't his. He sulks, disappears for a night, wanders back through the trees, hits his wife, consults his brother, then finally demands that Vera have an abortion. If he had just said so in the first place, this would have shaved 45 minutes off the running time.

The abortion goes badly -- the music cues alone warn you this will happen -- the brother has a heart attack and eventually Alex confronts Robert (Dmitry Ulianov), the man he believes seduced his wife. Without giving away any of the movie's "surprises," it all boils down to his wife was unhappy in the marriage. That's it. Apparently, this unnamed country with strict abortion laws also doesn't allow divorce lawyers either.

The acting by the adults is stiff and unnatural. Only the child actors get to play human beings. Cinematography and design are strong elements here as those departments achieve striking images of rural life -- so much so that at times you wish the actors weren't blocking the nice views.

Ren Film & Intercinema
Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev
Screenwriters: Oleg Negin, Andrei Zvyaguntsev, Artem Melkumjan
Based on a story by: William Saroyan
Producers: Dmitri Lesnevsky
Executive producer: Elena Loginova
Director of photography: Mikhail Krichman
Production designer: Andrey Ponkratov
Music: Andrey Dergachev, Arvo Part
Costume designer: Anna Barthuly
Editor: Anna Mass
Cast: Alex: Konstantin Lavronenko
Vera: Maria Bonnevie
Mark: Alexander Baluev
Kir: Maxim Shibaev
Eva: Katya Kulkina
Robert: Dmitry Ulianov
Max: Alexey Vertkov

Running time -- 159 minutes
No MPAA rating