CANNES: Documentarist turned fiction director Sergei Loznitsa makes his third venture into fiction film with A Gentle Creature which has scored a competition slot in Cannes. His two previous feature film outings My Joy and In the Fog both scored major art house and festival successes and A Gentle Creature looks set to continue this trend.
The film takes its title from the Dostoevsky short story but there is little in common with the original story except the name. The film was shot in the Latvian down of Daugavpils with the Latvian company Angel Studio providing location services. The town has a 90% Russian population and provides the story’s vaguely Soviet look and feel although the character’s use of mobile phones and other modern touches make it hard to pin down whether this story is meant to be contemporary or set in the past. A large statue of Lenin and Soviet structures still adorn the streets. Perhaps the director’s message is that the Soviet past is still with us today.
The story follows the “gentle creature” of the title a woman played by Vasilina Makovtseva who remains nameless throughout the story as do most of the other characters as she tries to find out why a package she sent to her husband who is in prison has been returned. Her efforts to seek an explanation for this mystery earn her ill-treatment and abuse.
Her first stop is the post office as the package has been stamped “return to sender” but the postal clerk played by Larisa Simonova is not interested. The people surrounding her are unkind and unhelpful. At every turn she encounters cruelty and inhumanity.
She decides to journey to the prison set in what is meant to be Siberia where her husband is incarcerated to find out what has happened. When she reaches the prison after a humiliating bus and train journey she is unable to even find out if her husband is still there. We do see what happens to the parcels meant for the prisoners that have been sent by their relatives as they are shredded and torn apart by the guards.
Exhausted and worried she finds out it could be days before she gets any news of her husband she takes up an offer to rent a cheap room from Zinka played by Marina Kleshcheva but the house turns out to be inhabited by drunks and loud mouths. The whole journey has turned into a nightmare which becomes even more unreal when in the end we see a hallucination where the characters she has met during the film appear draped in the colours of the Russian flag at what seems to be an official banquet.
The great Romanian DoP Oleg Mutu has collaborated once again with Loznitsa for this film and it is clear that each scene has been carefully and formally worked out to convey the mood and make a statement that is just as strong as the plot and the characters. Mutu makes us think of paintings and works of art from a previous century while Loznitsa makes us look at a society that has lost its humanity and its ability to care for its fellow man.
Credits: Krotkaya / A Gentle Creature (France, Germany, Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania)
Directed by Sergei Loznitsa
Produced by Slot Machine (France), ARTE France Cinéma (France), Graniet Film BV (Netherlands) LOOKS Film & TV Produktionen (Germany) Solar Media EntertainmentStudio Uljana Kim (Lithuania) Wild at Art (Netherlands) Film Angels (Latvia)
Supported by the National Film Center of Latvia Fund and The Riga Film Fund, Lithuanian Film Centre
Cast: Vasilina Makovtseva, Marina Kleshcheva, Lia Akhedzhakova, Valeriu Andriuta, Boris Kamorzin, Sergei Kolesov