Fledgling master Russian filmmaker Andrei The Return Zvyagintsev’s flawed second feature is a nonetheless interesting fusion of British gangster flick Sexy Beast, Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and (thematically at least) Scenes from a Marriage as created by Andrei Tarkovsky and Aleksandr Sokurov in their more ponderous, less assured moments.
Based on a short story by the great Armenian-American William Saroyan, the film opens like a thriller as middle-aged Mark (Aleksandr Baluyev) drives to the inner-city flat of his brother Alex. He has a bullet in his arm and insists Alex removes it without any fuss. Mark may be a criminal, but we’re never told. Next thing we know, Mark and his beautiful wife Vera (Norwegian actress Maria Bonnevie) and two small children are staying at the family’s remote countryside retreat. A revelation from Vera brings on the disintegration of their marriage amongst much enigmatic ellipses, all at a snail’s pace.
The very epitome of challenging, self-conscious art house cinema The Banishment works for at least its first hour. The sparse dialogue, blunt editing, and fantastic cinematography (by Mikhail Krichman who also shot The Return) work in its favour to create something both oblique and meditative. Unfortunately, a badly advised flashback sequence and a shamefully showy closing tableaux ruin the magic (legendary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt even, regrettably, gets in on the action). Still, for those with the patience of a saint who are interested in the troubling semantics at the heart of any marital union, this is definitely worth a look.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected cinemas from Fri 5 Sep.