A Gentle Creature (Krotkaya)

A depressing look at rural Russia, and how apathetic the society and its individuals are to each other.

My Joy (DIFF 2010), In The Fog (DIFF 2012) and now A Gentle Creature. Ukrainian Director Sergei Loznitsa, primarily a documentary filmmaker, has made his third fictional feature, and one that completes his trilogy about a dour, degenerate and a desolate rural Russia. More contemporary than the previous two movies, with A Gentle Creature he narrows the scope to a small prison town, foregoing his usual woods and highways setting. The narrative too is less abstract and more linear, making A Gentle Creature the easiest to follow of these movies… for the most part.

The point-of-view character (she’s a protagonist in the loosest sense of the word) is a woman who one day finds a parcel returned to her. She had posted it to her husband in prison, but now is perplexed as to why it was sent back. What follows is her journey in attempting to discover why her package won’t be accepted, even directly at the prison. She encounters people en route, at the prison and in the prison town, while trying to navigate through it all in almost trance-like state.

In reducing the scale of the movie, director Loznitsa has lost the fable-like allure of the previous movies. What we get is a more literal observation of a people living in the past glories of a powerful nation, while letting their current lives erode away. And while the leading lady may represent “Russian society”, the actress’ very deliberate disconnected performance is a tough buy-in. At some level, it works as a parallel for how apathetic the society and its individuals are to each other, especially in the impassive way she agrees with anything anyone suggests, but it also makes the audience not empathize with her. (It could be argued that the director may have intended this).

The last act though, that is where the director makes it difficult for the audience. Moving into abstract territory not unlike his previous movies, the last few scenes include some sequences that are either difficult to hold our attention (they are drab!), or a tough watch (painful!). These are important to convey what the movie is about and for the post-movie discussions, but watching them can require some strength of will, especially for those in the audience not used to arthouse cinema. Trust the director, and let him finish. It is essential to his statement on how depressing rural Russia is.

Rating: ★★★★☆

p.s.: This is Director Sergei Loznitsa’s fourth movie to play at DIFF. His documentary Maidan played at DIFF 2014.

About Shariq Madani

Shariq is a social, talkative, fun-loving guy who enjoys books, food and a long drive. But his real joy is in the comfortable darkness of a cinema, watching a good movie, and later spending hours discussing it.