The Banishment (Изгнание) is a 2007 Russian drama by director Andrei Zvyagintsev (Андрей Звягинцев), also known for his films The Return (Возвращение, 2003), Elena (Елена, 2011) and Leviathan (Левиафан, 2014). The film is a loose adaptation of William Saroyan’s 1953 novel The Laughing Matter. It stars Konstantin Lavronenko (Константин Лавроненко) and Maria Bonnevie. The Banishment premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or award, while Lavronenko received the award for Best Actor.
Aleksandr (played by Lavronenko) is a criminal who takes a trip to his childhood home in the countryside, along with his wife, Vera (Bonnevie), and his two children. The harmony of the vacation is interrupted when Vera tells Aleksandr that she is pregnant, but Aleksandr believes the child is not his. A rift quickly develops between the couple, though they try to keep up apperances for their children and the friends who come to visit them. Aleksandr decides to confide in his brother Mark for advice, but on the way to meet Mark at the train station Aleksandr’s son Kir reveals something: Aleksandr’s friend Robert was at their house while Aleksandr was away for work. Aleksandr concludes that Robert must be the father of Vera’s child. Aleksandr forces Vera to have an abortion, hoping to rekindle their relationship after the child is out of the way. Aleksandr leaves the children at a friend’s house and enlists Mark to find a doctor to perform the abortion. After the procedure, the distraught Vera commits suicide by overdosing on pain medication. As gossip about Vera’s death spreads throughout the countryside, Mark and Aleksandr rush through funeral formalities. Soon Mark suffers a serious heart attack, but he attends Vera’s funeral anyway, against the advice of his doctor. As a result, Mark dies before he and Aleksandr are able to return home. Aleksandr returns home to the city alone, intent on killing Robert for having impregnated his wife. After falling asleep in his car outside Robert’s house, Aleksandr is woken up by Robert himself, who invites his friend inside. Retrieving his gun from the glove box, Aleksandr finds a envelope that contains the results of Vera’s pregnancy test, with a letter from Vera on the back. At this point the film cuts to a flashback in which we find out that Vera actually attempted suicide earlier, but Robert saved her. Soon thereafter, Vera confided in Robert that she was pregnant and that the baby was Aleksandr’s, but she expressed concerns about having another child with her distant and uncommunicative husband.
As is typical of Zvyagintsev’s films, The Banishment is artistic, brooding, dark, and slow-paced, concerned less with entertainment value than with exploring themes of human psychology and myth, and performing social criticism. As such, the film received mixed reviews from the mainstream Russian press. However, sympathetic critics characterize this film as one that marks Zvyagintsev as a director of world stature.
Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev (Андрей Звягинцев)
Stars: Konstantin Lavronenko (Константин Лавроненко) and Maria Bonnevie
Production company: REN Film, Intercinema
Box office take: $320,000