sat 21/07/2018

Blu-ray: Andrey Zvyagintsev - The Return / The Banishment | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Andrey Zvyagintsev - The Return / The Banishment

Blu-ray: Andrey Zvyagintsev - The Return / The Banishment

The first two films from the Russian master of the human abyss

An almost surreal landscape: 'The Banishment'

Andrey Zvyagintsev is without doubt one of the great film-makers of our time. If you only know Leviathan, it's about time you looked at the rest of his considerable oeuvre. What is it about Russian cinema? Since the 1920s, Russia has brought us a succession of directors who have combined story-telling with extraordinary imagery and unique spiritual depth. Russian film explores the human abyss with the same ruthless and forensic devotion displayed by the country’s great novelists and poets. It’s as if a culture nurtured on the numinous power of the icon recognised the intrinsic power of the image and its capacity to stir us.

As his most recent film Loveless makes clear in its very title, the absence of love, and the consequences of this dereliction of human duty, is a central theme for this most moral (and dare I say, Christian?) of film-makers. The Return (2003) and The Banishment (2007) are haunted, not surprisingly by the main characters’ inability to open up to their capacity for kindness. The father in The Return, brilliantly played by Konstantin Lavronenko (who also stars in The Banishment) is trapped by the violence that has grown within him, and tries clumsily to reconnect with his two sons (pictured below). He takes them on an ill-fated adventure, but can only act out fantasies of paternal authority, alienating his youngest and forcing the older one into an inauthentic display of filial obedience.

Zvyagintsev paints with film in a way that is at times more than breath-taking

In The Banishment, we watch a married couple’s relationship crumble, decay and die, trapped as the two main protagonists are in the prisons they have built around themselves to avoid pain and emotional engagement. Zvyagintsev trades in tragedy: his characters are held fast within their respective fates – the ancient Greeks equated fate and character – and the films unfold towards their tragic finales with a terrifying and always disturbing inevitability.

For Zvyagintsev, children are the innocent victims of their parents’ inability to love. A child’s tragedy is at the centre of Loveless, and in The Return the two brothers are the tortured victims of their father’s frozen heart and barely repressed violence; in The Banishment, the children are the helpless witnesses of a drama that unfolds before their eyes and yet beyond their comprehension. These are films characterised by a hardness that is not easy to handle – but true to human experience. There is never a sweetening hint of sentimentality, and this is one of the qualities that gives Zvyagintsev's work such moral force.The ReturnVisually Zvyagintsev is a master. He paints with film in a way that is at times more than breath-taking. You stop and look, and the pace of the editing and the length of the shots allow for immersion in the image and the emergence of the full poetic and symbolic resonance that each frame evokes. The Banishment takes place in an imagined country, which the film-maker created from dour expressionistic industrial landscapes in Northern France and the bleak rural expanses of Moldova. The look of the film echoes the inner drama of the characters: there isn’t a moment that doesn’t speak as much through image as it does through words, or very subtly but powerfully used music.

Some people find Zvyagintsev too slow, and in a world where everything is accelerated beyond the possibility of feeling anything too deeply, in a kind of desperate escape, the stretched-out sense of time which he achieves echoes the deeply moral message of his films. For it is only through a certain kind of stillness and a carefully elaborated formal structure that a film can communicate something of the essence of human love: the enormously demanding task of finding the reflection, empathy and generosity that would make possible relationships that connect us to one another with any depth or consequence.

@Rivers47

For Zvyagintsev, children are the innocent victims of their parents’ inability to love

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