Perception is the key to Sergei Loznitsa’s wordless B&W film-essay “The Settlement,” which gradually envelops the viewer in the day-to-day activities of a rural mental institution in Russia. Cameraman Pavel Kostomarov garnered a special mention from the docu jury at Karlovy Vary, suggesting future activity for this atmospheric pic on the festival circuit. Other prospects are limited.
As the mists clear from the fields, workers walk or ride purposefully to their various jobs, with no indication that this is anything other than a typical village. Yet these people, while serene, also seem distinctive: A farmer has a hitch in his step as he lets the cows out, another seems to go through the motions of chopping wood with no actual result, and an oddly animated group boards a bus while another aimlessly harvests grain. It soon becomes apparent, from the faces caught in close-up, that these mundane rituals, earnestly performed, are somehow therapeutic, a link between this world and the one occupied by these citizens behind their cheerful yet blank eyes. Tech credits revolve around the patient, nuanced photography.