SPOOR – movie review

SPOOR (Pokot)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Writer: Olga Tokarczuk, Agnieszka Holland, adapted from Olga Takorczuk’s novel
Cast: Agnieszka Mandat, Wiktor Zborowski, Miroslav Krobot, Jakub Gierszal, Patricia Volny, Tomasz Kot
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/9/21
Opens: January 22, 2021

Poster

The difference between a B-movie crime story/TV episode like NCIS and an art movie that deserves greater concentration, is that the crimes, be they murder, robbery, rape, kidnap, and arson, should be entertaining thrillers, while the more intellectual dramas use the crimes as stepping-stones to the development of characters. “Spoor”is a good example of the latter. The title refers to the scent, droppings, even the trails trodden by animals. Animals, specifically dogs, boars, and antelopes, each have their brief starring roles, quite necessary to the development of plot. Since this is a film by the Polish director Agnieszka Holland, you would expect the story to be similar to that of her other contributions, such as her 2011 film “In Darkness” about one man’s rescue of Jews in the German-occupied city of Lvov. “Spoor” is more about the intended rescue of animals which are shot for fun, each month a different creature made legal to kill, in a small, southwest Polish town near the Czech border.

Holland, who studied filmmaking in Prague, focuses primary attention on Duszejko, an elderly woman who is the town’s only, animals rights advocate. Her personality might convince some diners that vegetarians and spokespersons for the four-legged are eccentric at least, crazy at most. Duszejko (Agnieska Mandat), a woman who objects vigorously to being called Janina though we do not find out why, is a part-time teacher in the local school whose 8-year-old kids love her, even hugging as you’d expect a dog to hug its human partner. She has studied astrology for years—not in itself eccentric, since even former first lady Nancy Reagan was a fan of the pseudoscience as well. When she protests against town laws that allow hunting, she undercuts her points with the police by screaming. The police have other concerns on their minds when bloodied bodies turn up in the snow, the film audience presuming that the wolf-hugger is the perp.

Though photographers Jolanta Dylewskh and Rafal Paradowski’s lenses are on Duszejko throughout, there are an abundance of secondary characters ranging from the wolves, boars, deer, foxes and even insects to people who enter in and exit from the scenes regularly. Among the folks introduced in this hayseed village are the priest, a man she should not have bothered to confide in, given that he considers equating dogs with people (my dogs are my daughters, insists Duszejko) with blasphemy since God gave us dominion over them and besides, animals do not have souls and therefore cannot be candidate for salvation. She has a brief affair with Boros (Miroslav Krobot), a wandering professor of her own age, an entomologist who advises her about how dead bodies can attract certain types of beetles.

Of the side roles, the most meaty, so to speak, is that of young Dyzio (Jakub Gierszal) who works for the police setting up and instructing them in how computers can help and who fears that he will lose his job because he has seizures. He will obviously team up with Dobra Nowina (Patricia Volny),the only twenty-something female in town.

Some of the material is rambling that would not be hurt by more attention from Pavel Hrdlika, its editor, but supplemented by more activity form the forest creatures that sometimes run quickly through the snow, and other times, as with deer that come over across the Czech border, and stand still, too dumb to be unafraid of humans.

Don’t expect too much blood, though one animal, apparently really gunned down by a hunter, is hugged and prayed over by Duszeklo. The principal reason for seeing this movie is the performance of Kraków-born Mandat, 64-years old when this was filmed, well known in her own country for roles in a host of TV dramas. Otherwise there are too many moments of tedium in this overlong, 128-minute offering, but enlivened by many of the secondary characters coming across not as salt-of-the-earth just-folks but mostly as fierce adversaries of animals, from the priest to the types you probably found climbing the walls of the capitol to protest a fair U.S. election.

In Polish with English subtitles.

128 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B

 

A WHALE OF A TALE – movie review

A WHALE OF A TALE

Fine Line Media
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Megumi Sasaki
Screenwriter:  Megumi Sasaki
Cast:  Jay Alabaster, residents of the Japanese town of Taiji
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 8/7/18
Opens: August 17, 2018

 

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It’s easy for moralists to sit back, sipping their bourbon, smoking their Cuban cigars, and waxing poetic about the need for a universal code of morality.  Never mind that some cultures are so poor that many must kill creatures to make a living, and we’re talking about people who live in countries where earning a dollar a day for mining is acceptable.  Many of us in the U.S. (members of PETA like me) might understand, if not condone, the poaching of elephants in Kenya for their valuable tusks, the clubbing of dogs in China where dog meat is no different from cow meat, and the massive slaughter of animals in our own factory farms.  After all, if most Americans eat beef, pork, lamb and the like, who are we elitists to complain about the killing of any animal?  What about the clubbing of seals in Canada, a rich country, the seals used not for survival but for the making of fur garments.  And we can go on and on about the fur trade in general, a lucrative one, and never mind the torture that animals must go through to provide chinchilla and mink.

There is one form of killing that—at least according to Megumi Sasaki’s documentary “A Whale of a Tale”—is almost universally condemned, and that’s the fishing of dolphins, centered on the village of Taiji which was the subject of the Oscar Best Documentary of 2010, “The Cove.”  It’s not that dolphins feel more pain than halibut, salmon, tuna and swordfish, but that they are creatures of intelligence matching that of human beings.  They are fished out of international waters by the whalers of this Japanese town of 3,000, whaling has been their tradition long before Moby Dick carved out revenge, and they’ll be damned if they let foreigners come in with cameras to tell them what to eat or catch.

As with “The Cove,” with its sobering look at the butchering of scores of dolphins trapped in a cove, the industry has been the focus of mass protests, not only in “the West” as the whalers call the accursed protesters, but also in the Philippines, a march with signs among the images captured in “A Whale of a Tale.”

On the one side are activists who are in Japan and appear 100% from the West, though many of them have been denied re-entry into the country because of their use of Facebook and Twitter to tell the world about what they consider a great evil. On the other are the whalers who depend on dolphins which they catch and kill and sell for food, or if they can manage it, sell the fish to Seaworld-type centers—which in my mind are as immoral as the late, ungreat, Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey circus.  In the middle is Jay Alabaster, an American journalist from Arizona who teaches English in Japan, who is fluent in Japanese, and who serves as a neutral party trying to bring the opposing groups together.  His view is that the small-town Japanese cannot begin to match the power of the foreign protesters because locals are not computer-savvy on Facebook and Twitter and therefore cede the propaganda ground to the protesters.

When the cameras are not on the waters around the village, they are at a press conference bringing the two sides together, including the mayor who would prefer to change the economy to tourism rather than whaling.  It’s probably not because the mayor has had a moral epiphany but rather that the Japanese do not eat much whale meat—the equivalent in a year as a slice of ham—and prices have tumbled.  As Seaworld-type entertainments are biting the dust, there may not be much market for dolphins there either.  And many believe the dolphins have toxic loads of mercury making them inedible.

By the way, from what I get, what the Japanese call whales are what we call dolphins.  The camera-work is stunning, contrasting the bonhomie of a small village with the madhouse atmosphere in overcrowded Tokyo.  The arguments are balanced, the director seeming to be impartial.  In any case the industry is on its last fins, which means that not only the whalers will be deprived of a living, but Hollywood would be deprived of a moral tale to trot out at awards time.

Animal rights activists will rejoice while traditional Japanese fisherman will be outraged by this effective story of the struggle to ban the exploitation in a small Japanese town of whales. A sequel to the Oscar-winning doc “The Cove.”

Unrated.  95 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+