Along with any of the other adjectives that suit this film – ‘gruelling’ and ‘grim’, for instance – ‘punishing’ isn’t going make you rush to the nearest cinema. No one really chooses to watch a demanding, miserable film. You might mean to, but you never really get around to it – especially when there are plenty of good films that aren’t the equivalent of a two-hour mental flogging.
And yet A Gentle Creature is so bracing and obscurely moving in its harshness that it’s impossible not to recommend, even as it also demands some kind of health warning.
It’s a pitiless film, a bleak odyssey that ends in an incomprehensible fantasia, and there were plenty of moments where we wanted to throw in the towel and walk out. But it earns its hardness and slowness, chiefly because it has an absolutely unwavering integrity. There’s never a moment when you suspect that director Sergei Loznitsa is a cheap sadist. A Gentle Creature meets its subject on appropriately tough terms.
The story is a halting journey, one taken by a woman living on the outskirts of a Russian village. Her husband is in prison, and she dutifully sends him care packages of food and toiletries, until the day that one of these parcels is returned undelivered. Alarmed, she travels across Russia to the prison in question in an attempt to find out what has happened, and encounters a cross-section of her fellow countrymen en route.
Played by Vasilina Makovtseva, the nameless woman – presumably the ‘gentle creature’ of the title – barely says a word as she moves through the inferno of Loznitsa’s Russia, her face a rigid mask of apprehension and distaste as she looks upon the various sinners she comes across. Some of these gargoyles – bureaucrats, security guards, and sinister ‘fixers’ – are horrified by their predicament, and some of them relish their fallen state, but they are all damned.
It’s not bleakness for the sake of bleakness. Listening to these ungentle creatures gabbling about their lives – Makovtseva’s character does little but listen – you piece together a composite portrait of compromised life under in an oppressive country.
You might consider 160 minutes of this kind of thing to be a
bit much. It is. But better ‘a bit much’ than ‘not enough’ – A Gentle Creature demands much, but it
makes so many other films seem lightweight and facile in comparison.
|What||A Gentle Creature film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
16 Aug 17 – 16 Jul 19, Times Vary
|Price||£Determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more information|