A Gentle Creature (4 stars)

A Gentle Creature

Despairing, state-of-the-nation Russian drama directed by Sergei Loznitsa

The recent chill in relations between Moscow and the West makes A Gentle Creature even more compelling. Sergei Loznitsa's first narrative feature since 2012's In the Fog is a bleak, angry epic painting a despairing state-of-the-nation portrait of a Russia that feels more like a lawless frontier state than a modern nation.

Taking its title and very little else from a Dostoevsky short story, A Gentle Creature stars Vasilina Makovtseva as an unnamed woman living in an unspecified village that might be somewhere near St. Petersburg. The premise is as simple and intriguing as an Agatha Christie mystery. The woman's husband is currently in prison on a murder charge. She has sent him a parcel which is returned with no explanation. Her decision to discover what this means propels her on a descent into endless circles of hell as she is dismissed, denied information, exploited, left to the mercies of corrupt officials and made to feel as insignificant as a speck of dust. Makovtseva plays her with an implacable stoicism as this timid, gentle creature is trapped in a world that seems intent on spelling out the dangers for those who dare to question the logic of authority, or step out of line.

The film immerses the viewer in the woman's experiences, emphasising the oppressive claustrophobia of daily life – from the crowded bustle of train travel to waiting rooms teeming with humanity. There is no escape from her ordeal, or from a country ruled by animal instincts.

Loznitsa does begin to test the patience with a lengthy and violent fantasy sequence that unbalances the film, pushing it towards a more strident, less appealing tone. Nevertheless, there is no doubting the scope of his ambition, or the howl of anguish that lies at the heart of this startling, unsettling tale.

Selected release from Fri 13 Apr.

A Gentle Creature

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • 2h 23min
  • Directed by: Sergei Loznitsa
  • Cast: Liya Akhedzhakova, Vasilina Makovtseva, Valeriu Andriutã

An unnamed woman (Makovtseva) living in an unspecified Russian village goes on a journey to discover why a parcel she sent to her imprisoned husband was sent back. Her quest sends her into an endless circle of hell, as corrupt officials send her to the brink and immerses the viewer into the oppressive claustrophobia of…