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The Banishment (2007)

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s The Banishment (Izgnanie) is a film about love; a very selfish kind of love that terribly harms your beloved ones. The story centers the crisis of a family as they go for a trip at the countryside. The opening scene of driving up and down the hills in the rural signals the surging life of the family. Beautiful landscapes in a remote setting accompanies Vera’s (Maria Bonnevie) lonesomeness as Alexander (Konstantin Lavronenko) pushes the limits of the capability of his “love”.

“Whatever you do will be right.”

The main conflict is that Alexander is not sure what to do after learning that his wife is pregnant with some other man’s child. His brother Mark (Aleksandr Baluev), whom we figure from the first scene that is involved in shady business, tells that whatever action Alexander takes next will be the right thing to do. Because in their regard, whatever he will do, he will do it out of love, and love legitimizes it all. The film follows how this distorted love destroys a family legitimately.

In contrast to an adult whose love feels like banishment to his family, the child reads from the Bible what love should be about. As in many films, remember that the child represents the hope for a better future. She reads how an angelic language, the gift of prophecy, or a great belief that would move mountains would mean nothing if one is loveless, and that one is nothing without love:

Love is patient and soft. It is not jealous nor does it brag. Love is not rude or ugly. Love does not put its desires first. Love does not have a quick temper. Love does not keep an account of the malignity. Love is not pleased of mistakes. For it, only the truth is essential. Love tolerates all, it believes all, it hopes all. Love bears all.

But Vera doesn’t feel this love. Instead, she suffers deeply from the way Alexander loves her and their children. Unlike him, she refuses the idea that they belong solely to their children, or that they own them as their parents. Her despondency is not of lovelessness, but of the warped way that her husband loves as she reveals:

“He has a selfish love towards us, as if we are commodity.”

As the “owner of the object”, Alexander feels he has the right to end the life of a child that he actually thinks is not the father of.

Another reference to the Bible is with the puzzle the children do: The puzzle is of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Annunciation; in which Virgin Mary’s sacred pregnancy parallels Vera’s. Similar to Virgin Mary getting pregnant without an intercourse; Vera is pregnant with her husband’s child whom she feels distant to, and doesn’t have an intimate communication with.

The film implies an allegory of love through the flowing water. The fountain had dried out when they first arrived at the countryside, and towards the end we see that it springs again. There is a long take following the running water from the fountain, passing through the meadows until it reaches a puddle where we see the reflection of the house. Then, the image is distorted with the pouring rain. This scene can be interpreted as a metaphor of Alexander’s love. It resembles how the family suffers from his way of love, although initially it is love that makes life possible.

Just like Roma, every scene of The Banishment seems like beautiful pieces of photography. Even though this 2h 37m long film might be slow paced for some, I would recommend any viewer that is fond of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s work to see this award winning film.

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