Directed by Agnieszka Holland
“Spoor”, the 16th fictional feature by Polish writer/director Agnieszka Holland, slides into swampy ground, never attaining the impressive prowess of works such as “Angry Harvest”, “Europa, Europa”, and “In Darkness”, which elevated the cineaste's reputation, assuring her a place in the international cult film circle.
Based on the novel Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, who also helped co-writing the script, the story focuses on Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka), a retired, auto-sufficient, astrology enthusiast, and highly neurotic schoolteacher who is a staunch advocate for animal rights, a problematic task in her remote small town located in Poland, next to the border with the Czech Republic, since the hunting season is seen with tremendous enthusiasm by the majority of the inhabitants. Most of them, backed by scornful police officers, shoot at everything that moves, and that might have been the reason for the vanishing of Dusjejko’s two beloved dogs.
When unexplainable crimes start victimizing the local hunters, the wrathful Ms. Duszejko sees her name on the list of suspects appointed by the police. Would this aging, fragile woman be capable to use force and do justice with her own hands?
The performance by Mandat-Grabka is diligent, and yet she couldn’t save the film from that sort of irritating cathartic neurosis that puts the finger in the wound without devising a proper or satisfying outcome. To tell the truth, Holland showed an embarrassing indecision about which direction to take, toggling between the activist drama, the faltering thriller, and the shabby comedy. She ends up compromising the story with a powerless, almost aleatory mix of the cited options.
Besides the main character, we see a bunch of loners attempting to fill a bit more the unfocused main plot with distracting sub-plots that feel more ludicrous than fulfilling. Even with promising pouches of intrigue and an interesting, atypical character, we don’t get a full delivery of that promise. I’m remembering of Carlos Saura’s “The Hunt”, whose minimal plot and narrative simplicity creates far more tension than “Spoor”, a mere disjointed fiddle-faddle whose real joy comes from the beautiful hazy landscapes and the morbid human decomposition captured by the lens of the skilled cinematographers, Jolanta Dylewska and Rafal Paradowski, along with the dark chamber music composed by Antoni Lazarkiewicz. As for the rest, it doesn’t really live up to its premise.