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

 

I, OLGA HEPNAROVA – movie review

  • I, OLGA HEPNAROVA

    Outsider Pictures and Strand Releasing
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B
    Director:  Tomas Weinreb, Petr Kazda
    Written by: Tomas Weinreb, Petr Kazda, story by Roman Cilek “Ja Olga Hepnarova
    Cast: Michalina Olszanska, Martin Pechlat, Klara Meliskova, Marika Soposka, Juraj Nvota, Marta Mazurek, Zuzana Stavna
    Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 3/14/17
    Opens: March 24, 2017

    Murder is a man’s game.  There are far more Ted Bundys than there are Lizzie Bordens.  In fact so few women commit murder worldwide that you remember the few who have committed the ultimate offense.  Still, one wonders how many people outside of the Czech Republic heard of Olga Hepnarova, who not only killed eight people at once but was the last woman executed in her country.  Now there’s Tomas Weinreb and Petr Kazda’s “I, Olga Hepnarova, a film which could inspire more people to order Roman Cilek’s paperback book from Amazon, where it lies awaiting a single review.

    The facts, however cherry-picked, could have been made into a Hollywood blockbuster film, an intense melodrama like Robert Wise’s 1958 movie “I Want to Live,” featuring Rita Hayworth as Barbara Graham who is executed for murder.  Or it could have been done in the style of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1989 “Dekalogue,” a series of films based on the 10 Commandments one of which involves not only murder but a grisly look at what happens to a condemned criminal at the moment he is hanged.  In fact, “Olga,” like “I Want to Live,” is done in a film noir manner, but is more like “Dekalogue,” in that the nourish, black-and-white photography by Adam Sikora exudes a color-free image of cinema verité journalism.  Director Tomas Weinreb is known to Czech audiences for his “Vsechno Je Sraka” about a fellow who spent half a year in a relationship with a murderer before the crime (so this movie is right up his alley). Petr Kazda shares the director’s chair in his freshman film.

    It’s easy to figure out the bleak, black-and-white tone of the film: it’s a reflection of the troubled mind of Olga Hepnarova (Michalina Olszanska), a young woman who was abused or ignored by her father (Vickor Vrabek) and mother (Klara Meliskova).  Her mother is a dentist whose communication with Olga goes little further than writing prescriptions for drugs that could ease the young woman’s confused mind.  Olga perhaps exaggerates the extent of her bullying by women her own age and her parents, even her teachers.  We don’t see much of it on screen.   Why is she the one who is picked on, since after all, bullied subjects are generally outliers in their communities?  This could be because of her introversion, her unwillingness to connect with others, or maybe even her lesbianism, which she discovered late in her teens leading her into a brief relationship with Jitka (Marika Soposka).  But Jitka threw her over for one Jana, her regular bedmate, leading Olga to travel further down the road to depression.

    Theme-wise, there’s nothing new about a woman who thirsts for revenge against a society that she believes he done her wrong.  The more melodramatic film on the subject, “Carrie,” shows the title figure bringing mayhem upon her town through telekinesis.  Olga has no super-powers, but this woman, who is considered a tomboy and therefore given a job as the driver of a truck, one day mows down twenty elderly people on the sidewalk, killing eight.  She dooms herself several times: first by telling the arresting officer, who suggests that she fell asleep at the wheel or that the brakes did not hold, “I did it on purpose.”  Then she begs the five-judge panel to give her the death penalty so that her crime would achieve international coverage, leading the greater society to see what harms are committed by bullying.

    As stated, this is not a movie for “Carrie” fans or for advocates of blockbuster melodrama, but is rather a serious, sometimes ponderous work involving several instances of the camera’s simply standing till in an empty hallway, or gazing at Olga’s face, which is usually downcast and sad.  The most significant feature, one that could lead to appreciation for an audience not too big on stasis, is Michalina Olszanka’s somber performance of the troubled lass.  She served as a memaid in Agnieszka Smoczynska’s “The Lure” and later this year in Andrey Malyukov’s “Sobibor,” based on a true story about an escape from an extermination camp.  You can believe that she can kill.

    “I, Olga Hepnarova” was filmed in Dolnoslaskie, Poland with dialogue in Czech.  There is no mood music on the soundtrack.  Did I say this is serious stuff?

    Unrated.  105 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?