7.8 Schastye Moe/ My Joy (2010)
7.0 In the Fog (2012)
6.9 A Gentle Creature (2017)
Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa (1964, born in Belarus) debuted with
Predstavleniye/ Revue (2008),
documentaries on the history of the Soviet Union patched together from
newsreels and propaganda films.
His first narrative feature, Schastye Moe/ My Joy (2010),
is a melancholy parable that turns into horror movie and Kafkian allegory.
The grave photography by cinematographer Oleg Mutu is the perfect complement
for the director's apocalyptic vision.
During his surreal odyssey
through the vast nondescript Russian homeland,
which by the end feels like a Dantesque descent into hell,
the young Russian encounters living effigies of
Russia's past (the glories of World War II) and has to cope with his
Russia's troubles (poverty, crumbling infrastructure, corruption).
The protagonist doesn't seem a protagonist, because the flashbacks and detours
take over the narrative, and the psychology of the truck driver remains
obscured by the country he inhabits and in which treks through, a country
drenched in an impenetrable sense of gloom and routinely devastated by sudden
bursts of violence; a country which, in fact, ends up annihilating whatever
personality he had. Reduced to a zombie, the putative protagonist becomes
even less than a witness, although at the very end he suddenly becomes the
angel of final judgment.
His is also an almost religious pilgrimage towards perdition, dotted with
mysterious encounters. However, this is clearly not paradise, as the common
features are a lack of humanity and an increasing degree of depravity.
At first Georgy simply loses his way in the woods, but then he also loses his
memory and his mind, and finally he loses his innocence becoming a monster
like the others.
Another World War II flashback tells the story of the mute. One night two soldiers arrived at an isolated house in the woods and asked the owner for shelter and food. A widowed teacher and a pacifist living alone with his son, he offered them what he had, but in the morning, having heard him talk of the Germans as civilized humans, they shot him dead. The mute is the little child who lost his mother and that day his father.
The scene suddenly shifts to a snowy winter but remains in the same house. There is a busy woman running the household. She has a child and has taken in a bearded brute who lies all day in bed. At night she has sex with him (or, better, on top of him), but he hardly responds. He doesn't object, nor understands, when she sells his truck. She is basically keeping him in the house in order to have sex and to make some money out of his flour. He doesn't talk and doesn't react when men beat him up in the market where he is selling flour. He is arrested by the police and thrown in a jail. Later a fellow prisoner beats up the guard and lets him out but he hardly looks grateful. He simply walks back like a zombie to the woman's house. This is Georgy, who has lost his mind and his memory. He has no common sense either. An old man finds him asleep crouched in the snow and gives him a ride in his sleight.
An old war veteran who boasts of having killed many enemies and buried them in a mass grave is walking down a long straight road covered with snow. A van stops by him with two soldiers inside, a commander and a driver. They are carrying a coffin that contains the remains of a boy killed in the war (Chechnya?) They are in charge of delivering the coffin to the family but cannot find anyone who claims the body. The madman attacks them instead of giving them directions. The soldiers stop for a minute in the woods and the commander finds a man hanged on a tree, but the other one doesn't see anybody. The commander, shaken, seems to lose his mind. Finally they arrive at a poor village and knock at the house who turns out to be the house of the old man who picked up Georgy from the roadside. The commander recognizes the old man as the one who was hanging from the tree and gets even more insane. The driver just wants to get rid of the coffin and offers a coat to the old man if he accepts to sign a paper and take the coffin in. The next morning Georgy finds the old man's body lying in the snow in front of the house with a gun in his hand. We don't know who killed him. Georgy takes the old man's gun and leaves on foot. He hitchhikes on the highway (or, better, just waits for a truck to stop and pick him up). The truck driver tries in vain to strike a conversation.
Meanwhile at a police checkpoint further down the road the cops have stopped a man and his wife. The man turns out to be a police major but the two cops who stopped him treat him like anybody else. He tries to bribe them but they make fun of him, arrest him, beat him up and handcuff him to a pipe. The videocamera inside the police station shows his wife trying in vain to flag down passing cars. Then the same cops pull over the truck in which Georgy is traveling. The truck driver is shocked by the brutality with which these two cops are treating the man they arrested. The cops force him to sign a document so that he becomes a witness to their version of the facts. As the brutality increases, Georgy snaps and starts shooting, coldly killing everybody, one by one, even the woman.
Im Nebel/ In the Fog (2012), an adaptation of Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau's novel "U Tumane/ In the Fog" (1989), is very slow and relies on very long takes.
A Gentle Creature (2017) is based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1876 tale.