Film review | Spoor: Following the tracks

Agnieszka Holland’s film is both sensitive and powerful, moving to the same jolting rhythms of the landscape it seeks to channel and give voice to • 4/5

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
21 June 2017, 7:30am
Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka and Miroslav Krobot in Spoor – in competition at the Valletta Film Festival
Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka and Miroslav Krobot in Spoor – in competition at the Valletta Film Festival
Human beings have an annoying habit of thinking the world revolves solely around them. We picked this up during the Renaissance – where the centrality of humans to life, as apparently sanctified by scripture, was a trendy philosophy that took root deep and hard – and have been using it since then to justify all manner of superiority complexes. 

Our attitude towards the natural world reflects this in ways that has been causing untold – though in reality, very much measurable and highly alarming – damage, and the Polish-Czech-Slovak-German-Swedish co-production Spoor, directed by Agnieszka Holland, based on the novel Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, and currently in competition at the Valletta Film Festival – takes this nasty reality and morphs it into a wry, compelling blend of pained psychodrama and a bizarre form of revenge thriller. 

Living on the Czech-Polish border and popping out to civilisation only occasionally to teach English at a local school, Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka) is a retired engineer with an unflinching love for the animal world and an often embarrassing belief in the horoscope. Content to live in her cottage with her dogs, she is also something of an annoyance to the amoral poachers that orbit the surroundings of her cottage, and whose often gruesome illegalities are sanctioned by the political chain of command. 

After her two beloved dogs go missing, however, her shrill complaints to the stonewalling police no longer become the only reaction to the continued animal killing. Now, it is apparently the hunters’ ‘turn’, with a serial killer on the loose picking them off one by one in strange ways. 

Duszejko gets caught up in the swirl of events – never quite helping her case with the police by letting rip into a fresh stream of righteous anger at the murderous habits of hunters and poachers – but is thankfully helped along by a reclusive though friendly neighbour Matoga (Wiktor Zborowski), a young clerk, Dobra Nowina (Patrycja Volny), stuck in an abusive relationship with the high-ranking poacher Wnetrzak (Borys Szyc) and an IT student Dyzio (Jakub Gierszal) sent back to the village from Berlin after his seizures caused problems at a new job. 

Holland’s film is both sensitive and powerful, moving to the same jolting rhythms of the landscape it seeks to channel and give voice to. Though often digressive – Duszejko appears to have a preternatural skill to harness key flashbacks from those around her – it is also built like a thriller: with a whodunit at its centre and an off-kilter heroine whose discomfiting views put her in the entire community’s crosshairs. 

Never dovetailing into sentimentality – it really should come with a trigger warning for anyone sensitive to animal slaughter on screen – Holland creates a rich tonal brew, that slips in moments of black humour and never quite lets our protagonist off the hook. Duszejko’s sanity may just be hanging by a thread, and her own brand of activism, Holland seems to suggest, is just as blinkered by her human trappings as that of the poachers she despises. 

Spoor will be screened tonight at Pjazza Teatru Rjal, Valletta at 21:00 and tomorrow at the Embassy Cinemas, Valletta at 20:30, as part of the Valletta Film Festival. 

For bookings and more information, log on to: http://www.vallettafilmfestival.com/film/spoor/  

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...