Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
France/Germany/Russia/Lithuania/Netherlands/Ukraine/Latvia, 2017. Slot Machine, Arte France Cinema, GP Cinema Company, LOOKSfilm, Studio Uljana Kim, Wild at Art, Graniet Film BV, Solar Media Entertainment, Wild Bunch, Haut et Court, Potemkine Films, Atoms & Void, Film Angels Studio. Screenplay by Sergey Loznitsa. Cinematography by Oleg Mutu. Produced by Marianne Slot. Production Design by Kirill Shuvalov. Costume Design by Dorota Roqueplo. Film Editing by Danielius Kokanauskis. Cannes Film Festival 2017.
Director Sergey Loznitsa’s career has moved back and forth between fiction and documentary since his first major feature My Joy in 2010, and here he once again presents a nightmarish odyssey through Russian society that means to reveal the nation’s shortcomings. Vasilina Makovtseva is excellent as a woman in the barren countryside who is distressed when the care package she sent to her imprisoned husband is returned to her as undeliverable. She learns that she has been granted leave to visit him and so undertakes a lengthy train journey to the prison’s outpost, but upon arrival is greeted with more difficulty. The bureaucracy guarding the prison is unwilling to let her deliver her package, the human rights organization set up to help her is weak and useless, and the town she is staying in while trying to accomplish her task is filled with people who are all too willing to give her a helping hand while clearly wanting something in return. What Loznitsa puts across so beautifully is the flowing of one event to another, everything trades on coincidences and spontaneous twists of fate that can only be the result of a society that refuses to have a proper social safety net and where everyone is only looking out for their own self-interest. This is not unlike the message in My Joy, though it was subtler seven years earlier and perhaps Loznitsa was frustrated that his message didn’t have more of an effect and is why he pounds the notes out far too hard here. The director definitely knows what he is talking about in delving into the country’s issues with corruption, but the tone is relentless and, at some point, the character’s decisions to let herself be put in a vulnerable position begin to seem unwise. In the last third, all patience is exhausted by an extended, satirical dream sequence that takes us from overstated to downright patronizing.