A Gentle Creature
Stars: Vasilina Makovtseva, Liya Akhdedzhavoka, Sergey Koltsov
Not quite the ideal date movie, Ukranian writer-director Loznitsa’s picture is a harrowing Kafkaesque odyssey into a Russia devoid of hope and empathy. Given the nature of this depiction, it’s unsurprising the picture was filmed in Latvia. Makovtseva is the unnamed titular creature, a provincial woman, who receives a package marked ‘return to sender’ that she had sent her husband in prison. When the almost comically truculent post office employee refuses to help her, the woman sets off to the Siberian town where the prison is located. There she finds a drink-sodden city of the damned, populated by pimps, gangsters and corrupt officials. This depiction of a protagonist being shunted from pillar to post by unheeding bureaucracy brings to mind Romanian masterpiece The Death of Mr Lazarescu, a picture that has a photographer in common, Oleg Muto. Muto repeatedly situates the stoic static heroine centre stage in a succession of crowded tableau of grim bacchanalia. There’s tar black humour here too, such as the scene where a stressed social worker scrambles for material while dictating a particularly traumatic series of events to the person on the other end of the line. It’s a darkly compelling ride, until, in a perverse move, the director cuts to an ill-advised kitschy fantasy sequence, a move that is far too much tell and not enough show.