A Gentle Creature
Russian literature has a formidable history of producing dark drama set against a kind of cold stoicism. A Gentle Creature sits very comfortably in this tradition of stirring, idiosyncratic tales of the country and its people. The film follows the vicissitudes of a woman (Vasilina Makovtseva) as she struggles to deliver a package returned to her by post. On her journey, the heroine encounters grotesque, theatrical types including bumpkins and members of the local criminal underbelly as she attempts to resolutely undertake this supposedly simple task.
Sergei Loznitsa is quite clearly a gifted raconteur, and the story of the meek protagonist is safe in his hands. Long, lingering shots are as much a window into the desolation of the empty and dilapidated rural landscape, as a viewing gallery for close-up portraits of the delicately shaped characters. Each encounter is its own vignette, economically but powerfully composed, where the strong ensemble acting is allowed to speak for itself. This is the very same no-frills humanism that a reader would expect from Dostoyevsky or Turgenev, but somehow it’s still shockingly modern.
Makovtseva’s thousand-yard stare and haunting looks are the perfect counterweight to her brash and gregarious companions. In her stony silence, she cannot help but stand out as a force for thoughtful stillness in the busy bureaucratic atmosphere in which most of the film’s action takes place. She plays a softly spoken, recalcitrant woman, but radiates strength and terror, force and fragility in equal measure.
There is a craftsmanship to A Gentle Creature. It takes time to build an image that is so intricately woven, and Loznitsa’s background in documentary filmmaking is clearly mapped onto the long feature stunningly. Watching this movie is a little like reading through a chunky classic novel; it’s almost unknown to get this same sense of breadth and scope on the big screen.
A Gentle Creature is released nationwide on 13th April 2018.
Watch the trailer for A Gentle Creature here: