Sunday, November 22, 2009

THE BANISHMENT (Andrey Zvyaginstev, 2007, Russia) Alex has become a stranger in his own land, salting the earthly garden of his homestead until nothing can grow. Director Andrey Zvyaginstev evokes the spirits of both Tarkovsky and Bresson, both in visual framework and narrative patterns creating a religious parable concerning mankind’s expulsion from the fabled Eden. The film begins with a car careening down a dirt road and into the city, a five-minute scene that educes Burton’s drive in SOLARIS, a bloody hand like a death grip upon the steering wheel, and a mystery is born. But this is not our protagonist: it is the brother of Alex suffering an unexplained gunshot wound. Zvyaginstev takes us from this hovel to a shuttered dwelling deep in the country where Alex and his family retreat, but their relationship is ripe with unspoken secrets, like an apple whose sumptuous texture hides a rotting core infested with termites. Vera soon discloses that she is pregnant with a stranger’s child and Alex seeks understanding and justice, himself careening between a decision to banish the fetus or murder his wife. The characters endure moments of emotional solitude and physical isolation amid the crooked forest sentinels, exposed like compound fractures, jagged bones piercing a thin mortal disguise. Religious imagery such as an incomplete puzzle of the Virgin Mary or a locked country church imbues the film with a sublime loss of faith, hope, and love. Zvyaginstev then creates a structural fracture by shedding light upon Vera’s tragedy, a flashback to her dilemma and the conception of the unwanted child. We finally experience her perspective, as Alex is a ghost who haunts the periphery of her life and the two children figments of an imaginary existence. The story that is revealed to Alex is only partly true and mostly lies, as two people have lost the ability to communicate…if that connection was ever viable. The pregnancy test is revealed and the truth comes crashing home: she had conceived a child with a stranger…her husband. Alex is left forlorn and withdrawn, burdened with guilt, starring at a twisted tree on a rugged hillside, defying odds and reaching for the sun, lush and alive, but alone. (B)

No comments: