Sergei Loznitsa

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

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 Blockade and 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.
There is nor redemption from the desolation and total nihilism, and there is no redeeming hero anyway. Here Ulysses never reaches his destination, whichever that destination was supposed to be, but simply goes mad and joins the general institutionalized brutality. Or, better, Ulysses takes the wrong road and enters a Kafkaesque universe in which roads lead to nowhere and people's lives have no meaning.
A lot of scenes are clearly metaphorical, and one can live with the unexplained corpse of the first scene as a symbol of how contemporary Russia is disposing of its glorious traditions.
The film can be read as a commentary on contemporary Russia, a nation whose main asset is its tragic history in the face of widespread decay and greed, but it could also be a general vision of the human condition. By reusing the same house in the woods, the muteness of the protagonist (due to having been hit on the head by some robbers) is presented as the continuation of the muteness of a boy whose father was assassinated in front of him by two soldiers. The pacifist who was assassinated in that house is possibly the only positive character in the film.

A dead body is buried by a digger. A young truck driver, Georgy, stops briefly at home (a humble flat in an ugly tenement) to pick up some food while his wife sits grouchy on the couch. During his trip Georgy is stopped at a police checkpoint. The cops probably want a bribe but then get more interested in a sexy blonde driving a sport car. When Georgy returns to his truck, there is an old man inside, who has decided to hitch a ride. The old man tells Georgy the story of how he was returning home from the front at the end of World War II when he was robbed by corrupt soldiers and, in revenge, he shot their commander from the train. Since then the former soldier has lived without a name, presumably a homeless vagabond. Georgy stops at a deserted village to get diesel but there is no diesel available. When he returns to the truck, the old man has disappeared. Later he has to stop in a long line of vehicles because the police has to clear an accident. A teenage prostitute approaches him. He is not interested in her services but she knows a shortcut, although she warns him that the shortcut runs through cursed land. Sensing that the girl must be the breadwinner in her family, he gives her a ride to town and gives her money to buy food. The girl, however, feels feels insulted by his generosity. She is not used to it and has learned not to trust it. She throws the money back at him and proudly tells him that she earns her living with her vagina. Georgy takes a break and walks around the market of the main square, observing the faces of the poor people. (Previously the camera followed two prostitutes chatting casually while walking along the line of stopped trucks on the highway). Then he starts driving on the shortcut, a narrow unpaved road full of potholes through the countryside. He meets nobody. The road sinks deeper into the woods. He gets lost in the night and decides to stop and sleep. Two talkative old men, constantly followed by a younger mute idiot, see his truck and wake him up only to knock him unconscious. When they realize that the truck is only carrying flour, though, they leave.
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.

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )