×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Spoor’

Agnieszka Holland's new film is a wintry small-town murder mystery that's like a Polish 'Fargo' — or at least it would be if the movie made more sense.

With:
Agnieszka Mandat, Wiktor Zborowski, Miroslav Krobot, Jakub Giersal, Patricia Volny, Borys Szyc.
Release Date:
Feb 12, 2017

Official Site: https://www.berlinale.de/en/programm/berlinale_programm/date

The central character of Agnieszka Holland’s “Spoor” is a lonely, moon-faced schoolteacher who lives in a mountain village near the border of Poland and the Czech Republic and insists on being called by her last name: Duszejko. Each morning, she rises in the country and greets the sun with her two dogs, then whiles away the day. It’s a quiet life, in the kind of setting where not much happens. Or, at least, that’s how it seems until Duszejko learns that her canine companions have gone missing, at which point the film starts to introduce its assaultively colorful cast of characters.

There’s the grizzled poacher next door who keeps his own dog locked in a shed. There’s the swank girl who works in a local boutique and moonlights at a sex club. There’s the baby-faced epileptic computer wizard. There’s the sadistic priest who tells Duszejko that it’s perfectly OK to kill animals, because they “don’t have souls.” There’s the angry hooded police chief who treats her like a criminal. The heart of “Spoor” is set in the wintry wilderness, yet the movie, adapted from a novel called “Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead,” plays as if someone had tried to binge-cram a dozen episodes of a Polish version of “Fargo” into one feature-length film.

Agniezska Madat, who plays Duszejko, is a commanding actress who looks like the earth-mother version of Aileen Wournos. Duszejko, we learn, is a retired civil engineer, though that doesn’t quite square with her hippie-peasant mien. Then again, nothing in the move squares. “Spoor” is a kind of murder mystery, since characters keep showing up dead, and the audience has a theoretical interest in discovering the identity of the woodland serial killer who is apparently responsible. The victims are all local hunters, and every crime scene is marked by tell-tale animal tracks. Beyond that, though, there are no clues; each corpse is another red herring. The movie is murky and disjointed, held together not so much by what happens as by a vague atmosphere of obsession.

Duszejko is an astrology freak, as well as a devoted defender of animals rights, and she seems to have chosen the right place to live. The country locale of “Spoor” is crawling with indigenous species — deer and wild boar, badgers and polecats. We see them scurrying through the woods, and occasionally one of the critters shows up bloody and dead, which is enough to cause Duszejko to weep in agony. She’s a mixture of squishy feeling and crusading righteousness, and she is also one of those protagonists who can be classified as an unreliable narrator. Yet in “Spoor,” the real unreliable narrator is Agnieszka Holland. Scene for scene, she stages the film with confidence and a feeling for mood, yet nothing in it hangs together.

Beneath the lurches in logic, the episodic storyline that never gets going, one discerns the fuzzy outlines of a “vision.” Men are hunters and stalkers. Religion is a lie that pretends to have compassion but doesn’t recognize all of God’s creatures. It’s up to women, who pose as the passive ones, to right the wrongs of the universe with their secretive action. The best thing in “Spoor” is Madat’s performance; she makes Duszejko a figure of equal parts love and rage. Yet the movie is the sort of mess that seems to keep starting over, and you may wind up wishing that you could transport the character to a better film, one that wasn’t too busy undercutting the audience to give it something to rely on.

Film Review: 'Spoor'

Reviewed at Berlinale Palast (Berlin Film Festival), February 12, 2017. Running time: 128 MIN.

Production: A Tor Film, Heimatfilm, Nutprodukce, Chimney, Nutprodukcia production. Producers: Krzysztof Zanussi, Janusz Wachala. Executive producer: Janusz Wachala.

Crew: Director: Agnieszka Holland. Screenplay: Holland, Olga Tokarczuk. Camera (color, widescreen): Jolanta Dylewska, Rafal Paradowski. Editor: Pavel Hrdlicka.

With: Agnieszka Mandat, Wiktor Zborowski, Miroslav Krobot, Jakub Giersal, Patricia Volny, Borys Szyc.

More Film

  • Luca Guadagnino Teams With Valentino on

    Luca Guadagnino Teams With Valentino Designer on Short Film Starring Julianne Moore (EXCLUSIVE)

    Luca Guadagnino has teamed up with Italian designer Pierpaolo Piccioli, creative director of the Valentino fashion house, to make a short movie fusing the aesthetics of film and haute couture and featuring an A-list cast comprising Julianne Moore, Kyle MacLachlan, Marthe Keller, KiKi Layne, Mia Goth and Alba Rohrwacher. The 35-minute film, portraying different chapters [...]

  • Trailer for Berlin Panorama Opener 'Flatland'

    Trailer for Berlin Panorama Opener 'Flatland' Revealed (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the trailer for Jenna Bass’s “Flatland,” which is the opening film of Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section. Sales are being handled by The Match Factory. The South African film is a contemporary Western centering on a journey of self-discovery for three different but equally trapped women. “It paints [...]

  • 'Captain Marvel' Lands Day-and-Date China Release

    'Captain Marvel' Lands Day-and-Date China Release

    Marvel Studios’ hotly anticipated blockbuster “Captain Marvel” will hit Chinese theaters on the same day as it debuts in North America. The Brie Larson-starring picture will release on March 8, 2019, which is also International Women’s Day. Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the film tells the story of Carol Danvers, a former fighter [...]

  • Peter Rabbit trailer

    Australia Box Office Recovers, Grows 3.6% in 2018

    Gross theatrical box office in Australia grew by 3.6% in 2018, to $890 million (A$1.25 billion). The score was propelled by a rebound in the performance of the top local films. Data from the Motion Picture Distributors Assn. of Australia published Tuesday showed aggregate cinema revenues recovering after a dip in 2017. While the 2018 [...]

  • Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics

    Q&A: Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics While Hosting the SAG Awards

    Megan Mullally is funny. The “Will & Grace” star can also sing and dance. While she’s not picking up the Oscar hosting gig after the Kevin Hart fiasco, Mullally will take center stage on Sunday, Jan. 27 when she makes her debut as the host of the 25th annual SAG Awards. Variety caught up with [...]

  • Glass trailer

    'Glass': Five Box Office Takeaways From M. Night Shyamalan's Thriller

    With his fifth No. 1 box office opening, M. Night Shyamalan has plenty to celebrate. “Glass,” the conclusion to a trilogy that consists of the 2000 cult hit “Unbreakable” and 2016’s box office sensation “Split,” topped the box office last weekend — though its win comes with a few caveats. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content