UK Release Date: 13th April 2018
Runtime: 120 minutes
Director: Sergei Loznitsa
Writer: Sergei Loznitsa
Starring: Vasilina Makovtseva, Marina Kleshcheva, Lia Akhedzhakova, Larisa Simonova, Valeriu Andriuta
Synopsis: A woman descends into a nightmare of bureaucracy and misinformation when she travels to a Siberian prison town in order to deliver a care package of food to her incarcerated husband.
A Gentle Creature is a Russian drama about the bureaucracy of the country’s society and a bleak depiction of an opaque government. It’s also two and a half hours long and the characters have names like ‘The Compassionate One’ and ‘Goat-Faced Man’. If you’re already coming out in hives, then you’re probably best to avoid this film, which is a European arthouse drama on every imaginable level. It has flourishes that are interesting and boasts a very impressive, naturalistic central performance but, other than that, it’s quite the slog.
The gentle creature of the title is a woman (Vasilina Makovtseva), who lives in a cottage in a quiet corner of Russia while her husband is serving a prison sentence many miles away. When a care package she had sent to him is returned to her, she decides that she is going to journey to the remote Siberian penitentiary in order to deliver the parcel herself. She ultimately discovers, via an uncaring clerk (Larisa Simonova), that this is going to be a harder quest than she imagined, and what follows is a nightmarish, Kafkaesque descent into a system that just wants to chew her up.
Writer-director Sergei Loznitsa certainly succeeds in creating a tone throughout A Gentle Creature. From the very first moments, this is a cold, disorientating film, amplified by an unsettling, oppressive score by Vladimir Golovnitski. Makovtseva’s character has plunged into the icy pool of Russian bureaucracy and she is never going to be allowed to free herself from that iron grip, however dogged her pursuit of her end goal transpires to be. Her performance is stoic and compelling, even as the narrative around her slowly loses all intrigue and withers away into a soporific trudge.
This is a long film and Loznitsa seems keen for the audience to feel every moment, delivering long takes and languorous sojourns into side-plots that amount to nothing. When he finally shows his hand with a more expressionistic final third, it lands a punch by virtue of the weird sense of susceptible wooziness that the rest of the film has evoked. Ultimately, even that intriguing idea is interrupted by disappointing shock tactics that create an all-too-obvious metaphor that isn’t nearly as original as he seems to think it is.
There’s almost certainly a gem of intriguing social commentary to be found within A Gentle Creature, but the filmmaker’s indulgence has scuppered any chance of it landing in the intended way. A lean drama could have told this story, but the narrative bloat that afflicts A Gentle Creature ensures that it’s more likely to provoke a two-hour snooze than an insightful discussion of Russian society.
Pop or Poop?
Those with a strong arthouse stomach might find something to enjoy in A Gentle Creature but, otherwise, it’s a painfully slow exploration of bureaucracy. The central performance is arresting and interesting, but she is not enough to sustain a film that seems determined to test the audience’s endurance above anything else.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
A Gentle Creature will be released into UK cinemas on April 13.