Film Review: Spoor

Director and co-writer Agnieszka Holland’s Spoor is thoroughly entertaining mystery, with the right amount of intrigue, suspense, and humour. 

Animal rights crusader Janina Duszejko lives alone on the Polish-Czech border. When a series of crimes occur in the quiet region, Duszejko is convinced she knows who is responsible, if only the police would believe her…

Based on the novel by Olga Tokarczuk, the film works well thanks to a good premise and good writing. One of the highlights of Spoor is the choice, and the development, of the protagonist. It is fresh in to see an older woman take centre stage, one that is educated and accomplished, single and childfree. Janina Duszejko works well as the main character as she is independent yet welcoming, and un-flustered when faced with the macabre. 

The beauty of the film is that viewers will be unsure quite where it is going. What starts off as the story of the disappearance of the protagonist’s two dogs turns into quite something else. Spoor blends mystery with a thriller. There is gore, but film is not particularly gruesome. The humour works well to add light and to shape the characters. 

The focus of the film is on ecology. There is an unambiguous contrast between Duszejko’s love of animals and the natural world, and the unsympathetic hunters and poachers. The film drives home its message with later events. It does not become preachy, yet the message is clear. 

The art direction is important in capturing the animals in Spoor. Sometimes their images are eerie, which holds a significance in the emerging plot. At other times,  the cinematography captures beauty of the animals. The central performance by Agnieszka Mandat is great. Jakub Gierzal is also a highlight. 

Spoor balances entertainment with a message in a way which is engaging. It is a great film from Agnieszka Holland.

Spoor is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

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