Film Review: A Gentle Creature

Sergey Loznitsa’s A Gentle Creature is a bleak and uncompromising film. The filmmaker offers a portrait of impassible authority and a decaying landscape.

A woman receives a parcel, returned by the prison where her husband is incarcerated. There is no explanation for the parcel being returned to her, so she sets off on a journey to discover what has happened to her husband…

Writer and director Sergey Loznitsa has created something of a curiosity with A Gentle Creature. Sharing a title, but not a narrative, with the Dostoyevsky short story, the film paints an almost relentlessly bleak portrait of a woman fighting an insurmountable system. Nevertheless, the film is not dark for the sake of darkness; Loznitsa has something to say.

Set for the most part in a nameless Siberian town, A Gentle Creature is an indictment of the  unchallenged power of authority in Russia. This is exhibited through various strata, from the  brusque post office clerk, to the cruelty of the prison workers. The protagonist is a solitary figure of integrity facing an unassailable enemy. There is something Kafkaesque about the protagonist’s search, occasion flecks of black humour are present here.

As well as the corruption and tyranny of authority, Loznitsa offers a portrait of social decay. The place where the protagonist ends up staying is brimming with unsavoury characters, each of which is given little hope of escaping their bleak lifestyles. In the final third, the film breaks with the narrative line up until that point, taking viewers to the realm of allegory. This is not overly disjointed, the film does meander somewhat during its lengthy duration.

Vasilina Makovtseva delivers a strong performance as the undeterred protagonist. Her stoicism in the face of corruption and decay makes for compelling viewing. Oleg Mutu’s cinematography is also a highlight. A Gentle Creature is not always necessarily a pleasurable watch, but it is a film with something to say.

A Gentle Creature is released in UK cinemas on 13th April 2018.

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