London Film Festival: Spoor

Spoor

Spoor by Agnieszka Holland.

Spoor: the track or scent of an animal.

It’s been a joy to attend LFF so far without knowing much about what will be shown, and especially to see films from various countries that may not be distributed everywhere.Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland directs star Agnieszka Mandat in Spoor, the story of Janina Duszejko, a part-time English teacher and animal rights defender who lives alone on the Polish-Czech border. One day, her two dogs go missing, and she has a suspicion that the local hunters, who control the police and don’t follow any rules, are behind the dogs’ disappearance. Duszejko is loved by her students and certainly does not exit a room without leaving an impression, but some find her belief in astrology and her conviction that animals have souls uncomfortable in a region where religion and conservatism are pushed in front of the law.

The cinematography by Jolanta Dylewska and Rafal Paradowski is beautiful, taking in the vast rural scenery of hills and magnificent trees. It also hones in on human and animal corpses, with shocking effect. What is done to the animals is disturbing, and one wonders over and over again what pleasure people find in hunting.

However, there were some choices that I was less on board with. Some of the characters’ pasts are shown through images. I thought strong dialogue could have created enough distress without images being needed. In addition, there were close ups on the mouths of those trying to lecture Duszejko, including the town priest. The timing of these close ups was not always clear to me – then again, perhaps the language barrier is where I lose.

The film gripped me when it addressed rights and politics, but due to the number of characters, some of them were too thinly presented. At times, I thought the story was fed to the audience. It is often repeated how local abused girl Dobra (Patrycja Volny) is “good”. As a halo was shown above her in a scene where she helps Dyzio (Jakub Gierszal), a young man who suffers from epilepsy, I wondered whether the image had gone too far.

Speaking of Dyzio, he is an IT engineer working for the police, is shy and geeky and lives in a minimalist flat: could one of those stereotypes have been taken out of his character?

I don’t want to sound negative: the acting was excellent overall, with Mandat lighting up the screen and the company of actors bringing humour and love to this thriller. Again, as I have mentioned in my previous article, the presence of children is soothing and grounding.

Whether they have a soul or not, respect for wildlife is essential: they are a part of our Earth, so why would police laugh in the face of a concerned citizen? The injustice shown in Spoor calls on us to protect our planet and know our rights. The plot twist towards the end warns us, with hope and eagerness, that change must happen and will in ways we cannot predict, with the help of those we least expected.

 

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