Themes of distrust, obsession and revenge all combine to somewhat underwhelming effect in Kirill Serebrennikov’s Betrayal (2012), a downbeat and ironically passionless excursion into restrained melodrama. Blending some deft and weighty camerawork with an oblique narrative of bewildering twists and turns, Serebrannikov’s latest is an alluring, if tedious example of cinema taking itself too seriously. When a man (Dejan Lilic) visits hospital for a routine check-up, he receives some rather distressing news. His health is perfectly fine, but the doctor recognises him as the spouse of the woman her husband is having an affair with.
Incredulous and stricken with anger, our nameless, middle-aged male confronts the clinical doctor as she leaves the hospital; their conversation is vague, but the near-death experience which proceeds it (Betrayal’s only vigorous moment of action, when a Land Rover crashes into the very bus stop that they were standing in moments earlier) seems to represent the emotional carnage that will usher forth following such a revelation. Unified by their own individual sense of betrayal, the pair deal with their newfound cuckold status in very different manners. From here on in, things get considerably weirder, with director Serebrennikov revealing a myriad of subsequent twists that hit home with varying degrees of success.
Hamstrung by its a purposely lethargic pace, Betrayal manages to draw you in through its striking imagery and sombre mood, but is still somehow a painfully dull and listless experience. Our pair of protagonists eventually embark on new, post-relationship lives, yet find themselves drawn into the same illicit situation as their former partners – even using the same hotel room for their forbidden liaisons. Clearly, this is some form of bizarre coping mechanism, with each attempting to feel closer to the one they lost. Sadly, the utter lack of chemistry witnessed between the two makes this revelation rather grating, especially considering the web of absurdity and coincidence that’s gone before.
Unsure as to whether it’s a realist drama or a surreal thriller, Serebrennikov’s Betrayal finds itself stranded in a no man’s land of stylistic approaches. Elegant and sinuous in its direction, yet sterile and clinical in its recital, this arduous melodrama progressively weakens its study of relationships and the crushing force of love through its reliance on unfathomable occurrences and trite screenwriting techniques; an unlovable mess.
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