A Gentle Creature

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Sergey Loznitsa

Starring

Liya Akhedzhakova Valeriu Andriuta Vasilina Makovtseva

Anticipation.

Loznitsa returns to fiction after a run of great documentaries.

Enjoyment.

This dreamlike journey into the moral and political abyss of Russia has its moments.

In Retrospect.

Punishingly bleak, and not always in the most satisfying of ways.

Russia's Sergei Loznita offers a damning critique of his homeland with this epically joyless road movie.

In 2014’s animated feature, The Lego Movie, the world as presented as a grating dystopia where happiness reigns supreme and the global anthem is titled, ‘Everything is Awesome’. If you can imagine a diametrically opposite version of this image, you’re half way to comprehending the near-parodic levels of bleakness on show in Sergei Loznitsa’s Russian miserablist epic, A Gentle Creature. The anthem here should be, ‘Everything is Awful’, and everyone should be forced to sing it, all day, every day.

Curiosity killed the cat, and that seems to be the proverb that applies to all life in modern Russia. Vasilina Makovtseva is the unsmiling “creature” of the title who returns home one day to a collection card from the post office. A care package of canned food, sent to her husband who is languishing in a Siberian prison, has been returned to her for reasons unknown. He is inside on a possibly trumped-up murder charge, but she believes he is innocent. With no information or the ability to contact her incarcerated beau, she decides to hop on a train to Siberia and succumb to the foul torments of a barbarous prison town.

Discovering relatively quickly that this was no simple administrative snafu, the woman then gives herself over to the pimps and racketeers in the hope that she’ll somehow find her answer. She seems utterly untroubled by danger, constantly handing over her passport to random tyrants who claim to want to help her (even though she’s been hoodwinked over and over again). She goes deeper and deeper down this festering rabbit hole, and all you want her do to is get back on the train, go back to her country shack and play with her dog.

This inevitably makes for dreary and punishing cinema, and this is a work that will have you leaving the auditorium with head slung low and heart slung lower. Makovtseva is low-key powerful in the lead, somehow remaining utterly mysterious and blank as a character, yet doing just enough that you pine for her to live long enough to experience the next violent encounter. Yet the film is something of a bust, and its conceited dedication to despair presents a world which mixes literary grotesque with some garbled attempts at social realism.

When she realises that her odyssey is pointless and that there are far more pressing concerns in Mother Russia than a missing prisoner, Loznitsa takes a bold stylistic U-turn before unloading a final shotgun cartridge to the face with a silly coda. This closing image appears to suggest that Russia is physically abusing its populous and it has the muscle to get away with it. But this is a problem that will persist while there remains a desire to discover the real truths as opposed to the official ones.

Published 14 Apr 2018

Tags: Sergey Loznitsa

Anticipation.

Loznitsa returns to fiction after a run of great documentaries.

Enjoyment.

This dreamlike journey into the moral and political abyss of Russia has its moments.

In Retrospect.

Punishingly bleak, and not always in the most satisfying of ways.

Read More

Loveless

By Cian Traynor

Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev follows up Leviathan with a bleak but captivating social drama.

review

Elle

By Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Isabelle Huppert and Paul Verhoeven reunite to potent effect in this sly, caustic social critique.

review LWLies Recommends

Tyrannosaur

By Matt Bochenski

Paddy Considine’s eloquent, savagely poetic script is grounded in a cinematic idiom of bleached light, bleak estates and broken lives.

review

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design