For two hours, I thought this amazing film from Sergei Losnitza was the Palme d’Or winner. Then the ending happened.
For two hours, a quite woman trudges across fields, her face pretty yet worn down by hardships. A parcel has been returned to her and she doesn’t know why, so sets out on an arduous journey to visit her husband who’s in jail in Siberia.
Even the bus ride to the post office is fraught with incidental dangers, creeps and officials always obstructing or drifting in and out of shot and earshot. Then there’s the train journey and the characters in the carriage.
Once arrived in the dreadful prison town, she is again met with hellish officialdom, Kafka-esque spirals that force her into a bawdy house where games of strip-tease take place amid copious amounts of vodka and pickles. The scenes are like waking nightmares, moving canvases of faces and voices.
She meets a local mafioso who tells her he can find out what’s happened to her husband. The town is full of lost souls. Heavy doors are forever closing in her mute, furrowed face. In the corner of the screen, brutal fights are taking place and policemen are taking bribes. Will she ever arrive at her answer?
There are forms to fill in, and a wonderful scene in an appeals office where paper and pens are strewn all over and the woman in charge bleats about how they treat her.
I watched with my mouth agape. It was brilliant, daring, dazzling cinematic stuff.
Then the ending happened. An extended dream sequence that goes on way too long and a horrific rape sequence that is too brutal and too detailed, distastefully, unnecessarily, as if the director has had a brain freeze (if it is her nightmare, why would she picture her own breasts in a rape?). This brutality undoes a whole lot of very good work and watching a great film shoot itself in the foot leaves a nasty, bewildered taste in the mouth.