Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
"The Banishment" was conceived as a universal story, a pure work of art. All specifics related to a particular time and place, nationality, ethnicity - all real context - we intentionally destroyed. At the center of the story is a family, generic in terms of origin and character. Our model was the original human family, Adam and Eve, Alex and Eve in our film, a simple man and a simple woman living in the world. This concept required us to remove all elements and contexts extraneous to the story. The movie is about every man and woman, whenever or wherever he or she lives.
The visual style was dictated by early Russian and Italian frescoes. This concept called for minimalism and severity in line. The lack of things was compensated for by the abundance of textures, which were the main tool used to define the interior's character. There was nothing incidental to the plot and concept, not a detail, not a camera movement that was superfluous. Everything we did had to be necessary, without any embellishment of any kind.
Being laconic in set dressing, I decided to express characters' spaces with the use of textures
Vera and Alex's environment consisted of two parts: city and wild, pure world. Charleroi in Belgium was a city quintessence for us. Grown around huge iron and steel works, it was extremely intense, tight and lifeless. The city lies under and is surrounded by a network of dominant overpasses covered with black soot. The ivy on facades had colors of a brick from the salty iron rains. Each hour clubs of a flame escaped from a tubes in a huge steel plant, and enormous claws collected the mountains of metal coming on barges to the city.
Their city apartment was nested inside the factory , where he built and equipped a workshop included his living quarters. The brutalism of industrial architecture characterized every part of this space. To keep the feeling of a factory environment we used concrete, bricks, glass blocks, iron tiles, oil paint, and various metals throughout. The apartment was a continuation of the city itself. Because the director had specific requirements for this space, we decided to build a set rather than using any existing location.
Interior of the Alex apartment
Interior of the Alex apartment
Other interiors, constructed in studio.
Some more interiors were a part of the town, like morgue and office. We did them in an abandoned sewing plant. Constructed in the middle of the 19th century it combined the industrial scale with decorative ideas of that time.
The structure of the script is in the confrontation of polar entities: men an women, sense and rational mind. Visually that duality was supported by absolute difference of town and country. In contras to the brutality of the town was ravine with an orchard. It was a place for a plastered stone house. The working title of our movie was “Smell of Stone”. The house was Alex’s family property, expressing dry, empty, and dead feelings of decayed life.
With the textures, we were trying to create its history, to show generations that lived before. It had multiple layers of paint covering one another and different sorts of plaster. All rooms had earthly brown and grey colors except the bedroom, where the dominant color was blue, as a color of purity and hope.
The second floor was detached with wooden planks, somewhere they were covered with wallpaper. We used wet, fresh boards for construction and after we applied our finish they started to dry and shrink. That caused vertical tears and cracks on the wallpaper surface, something you can’t make with your hands.
But the house wasn’t that austere all the time. It was a watermill before, we see it in an old photo with Alex’s grandfather. Some viaduct pillars stood behind it, round millstoneы and the dry stream up the house reminds us of its former function. And once that spring starts again.
As I said above, this extreme industrial environment, this absolute city, stood in contrast to the paradise of pure nature. That place we found in the hills of Moldova. Because the terrain was used for pasture, they were covered with a very thin layer of young grass continually being disturbed by grazing livestock. Furthermore, it was possible to see the typical movements of the animals by the signs of their feeding left clearly in the meadows. We selected a place to construct the house on the basis of its unique geometry. The place seemed to be an island in the fields of grass, cut off from the world by a deep ravine. The sense of alienation was emphasized by a bridge over the ravine.
To keep the delicate grass cover alive, the house was constructed using a deck that we built around the house. All materials were brought in on foot via the ravine. It was filled with a mix of objects from Vologda and the German country farms.
In our minds, the house had been a watermill in the past, deserted long ago. The stream feeding it had dried up. The heroes, coming from the city to the house felt forgotten feelings welling up in their hearts.
At a pivotal point in the film, the script called for the stream to run once again. Symbolic of rebirth, the return of the prodigal son or the resurrection of the dead, a return to grace after the fall, and the banishment from Eden, the stream represented the redemption of the protagonist, Alex. The depiction of the stream's rebirth was conceived as a single continuous shot from the source at the spring, coursing down the parched river bed, culminating in the newly filled artificial lake in front of the house. Construction involved the creation of a dry riverbed meandering through the hills, passing beneath the house, and ultimately filling the former dam in front of it. For two months a three-ton canister of water was poured down the artificial
riverbed twice a day to form the stream and to encourage organic plant growth because even around dry rivers, the vegetation is much more prominent. The house stood on piles, an array of which we installed along with some apparent remnants of the old watermill and assorted everyday junk. The final stage of the shot was the reflection of the house in the water, which we achieved by using a full-scale print of the house facade. The entire length of the stream's flow was overshadowed by a complicated series of objects including tree branches, and huge frames creating the shape of the house. It was a perfect example of how poetry can be created by means of engineering in movies.
Throughout the movie, we used iconic images of bible scenes. Even the movie's name, "The Banishment", refers to the Expulsion from Eden, from paradise. We used these iconic images in two ways. Various shots, such as that of Vera receiving mail, which was based on the Annunciation by Fra Angelico, and the shot of her in the morgue, inspired by the Dead Christ of Andrea Mantegna used such images to inform the composition of the shots, and other images were used as citations, carefully inserted into the set.
Examples included Masaccio's Adam and Eve in the bookmark and Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation which appeared as a puzzle in a kid's room. These images acted as a tuning fork, establishing the key and the tone for the whole visual sequence. The Banishment had ambitions to find a new profound and metaphorical visual language. It was truly blissful to be a part of that team, to work together, and to try to find the holy grail of iconic imagery.
Director Andrey Zvyagintsev
DOP Mikhail Krichman
Production Designer Andrey Ponkratov
Props Alexandr Losovsky
Set Builder Alexandr Fedorov
Text edited by Robert Kursten