Sergei Loznitsa’s (Bridge’s Of Sarajevo, The Event) nightmarish Siberian drama is a savage piece of cinema worthy of its 2017 Palme d’Or nomination.
It’s a steadily unravelling, 2 hour 23 minute night terror that arrives at a David Lynch-like ending. The enduringly stoic Vasilina Makovtseva (Vazhnyak (TV), 29 Kilometr) is A Gentle Creature’s answer to Inland Empire’s more animated Laura Dern.
Makovtseva’s character is the film’s unnamed protagonist – a passive yet unshakably determined woman estranged from her incarcerated husband. When a package she sent to him is returned to sender, she sets out to find out why.
Along the way she meets some sordid characters who help and hinder her on her search for the truth. They include a bent young police officer, a brothel owner and scruffy pimp who drives a BMW emblazoned with a shark decal.
But not every pawn is bad in this mad little game. The film’s most poignant scene comes in a human rights office on the edge of town. The bureau’s manager is a bumbling, pint-sized woman with the heart of a lion. She fights for the rights of prisoners, yet the local people regularly raid her centre and graffiti swastikas outside it.
It’s in the aftermath of a raid that Liya Akhedzhakova (Bankrot, The Garage) is followed around the room – tip toeing between folders and paperwork strewn across the floor – in one of the film’s many long, lingering shots; reading a graphic transcript from a complaint made to the centre. Not wanting to read on, she turns to our protagonist’s case and sobs in despair for her country and its people.
The story itself is inspired by a short story by Russian author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Directed by a Ukrainian and co-produced by France, Germany, Netherlands and Lithuania, A Gentle Creature, or Krotkaya, is an assault from all sides.
Husbands, sons and fathers are locked up for little to no reason. The average Joe’s personal experience with prison is common, everyday conversation. Fractures of the state’s judicial system run through families and communities. Broken homes have left parts of the country stagnant while the rest of the world moves forward. A quip mentioning Google and the almost surprising appearances of smartphones are Loznitsa’s way of poking fun at the absurdity of it all.
Later though, the lighter side to this film is eclipsed by a harrowing penultimate scene. By the end you’ll be left feeling empty. Personified, the film would give a sigh and a shrug; an exhausted and biting expression of hopelessness.
It’s tremendously dark and beautifully miserable. Go see it.