Krotkaya

France, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands 2017

Synopsis

A woman lives alone on the outskirts of a village in Russia. One day she receives a parcel she sent to her incarcerated husband, marked 'return to sender'. Shocked and confused, the woman has no choice but to travel to the prison in a remote region of the country in search of an explanation. So begins the story of a battle against this impenetrable fortress, the prison where the forces of social evil are constantly at work. Braving violence and humiliation, in the face of all opposition, our protagonist embarks on a blind quest for justice.

Directors Statement

This is a purely fictional story; I made it up from beginning to end. I was inspired by a short story by Dostoyevsky, which bears the same title and which Dostoyevsky himself called a “fantastic story”. It tells of the relationship between a torturer and his victim, narrated by the torturer. In my fantasy, the victim retains her role of a victim, while the torturer is not personified by one single character, but takes on a somewhat different shape – the sadistic qualities are distributed among a multitude of characters, and the physical space in which the victim exists is itself menacing and aggressive.
More than 150 years separate Dostoyevsky's story and my film. The country has changed, people have changed, but the level of reflection remains the same. My narrative line is very different from Dostoyevsky's. My film is set in the present, and this period dictates the story’s plot and climax. In this sense Dostoyevsky's short story and my film have almost nothing in common, the title aside. At the same time, just like Dostoyevsky's text, my film is a fable about a victim and her tormentors, born and narrated - if I may use a figure of speech congenial to the place where the story takes place - by its author’s “inflamed imagination”. It should also be noted that the film does not share much with the oeuvre of Bresson, except for the title. Bresson is preoccupied with the psychology of a singular intimate relationship, whereas I'm fascinated by the nature and physiology of violence endemic to a particular place and its inhabitants.
A woman living in a Russian village works at the petrol station of an industrial plant. One day a parcel she sent to her husband, who is serving a prison sentence, is sent back to her marked ‘return to sender’. The only way to find out why the parcel was not delivered is to travel to the prison in a remote part of the country and seek information there. Thus begins a story of humiliation and violence; the story of a battle against an impenetrable fortress, which suppresses and enshrouds in thick mist everything and everyone who sets foot on its grounds. Due to its nature – a place one can easily enter, but of which one can know nothing without actually having penetrated it fully – the prison is seen as both a place of mystical power and a cruel exterminating machine. The paradox is that such a prison is created by those who are themselves destined to become convicts and to be devoured by its dark forces. Having experienced all sorts of humiliations, both physical and psychological, the heroine falls into a state of despair. She can see her future clearly, even if it seems too absurd to be real…
One might imagine from this description that the film will have the qualities of a philosophical essay or an allegory. This is not at all the case. On the contrary, the story is densely populated with ordinary people, easily found in the sort of fictional space I am describing, and who take very little care and give very little thought to their own actions. Indeed, what's there to think about when one has to survive! There is nothing extraordinary in the actions of these people and the way they live their lives; one can hear stories like theirs at any bus stop or train station, where people gather to wait for their transport and, bored and tired of waiting, begin to share anecdotes of things which have happened to them. These anecdotes are told in a colourful language, fairy-tale style, and they underpin the story, lending a burlesque aspect to the dramatic narrative.
As the stories I'm telling are ordinary, the visual language I will use to narrate them will also be rather ‘lifelike’, almost documentary in style. This will give these stories a feel of everyday, casual occurrence, which seems so shocking.
How terrible casual evil is! And how terrible is the casual attitude displayed by people, by the accidental witnesses. How tolerant we are of lies and evil, because our survival instinct tells us to pretend not to notice them. How ready we are to join in with the collective ecstasy of living through your own crimes, as if that were the only possible form of existence.
I plan to shoot the film in Latvia, in the city of Daugavpils. There’s a beautiful old prison still standing there, like an impenetrable fortress inside which our own unpredictable future could be waiting for us. This is the impression this prison can make upon the accidental and impressionable passer-by, whose life experience suggests that the essence of all fantasies is reality itself.

Biography

Born in 1964, Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa grew up in Kiev, and graduated from Kiev Polytechnic in 1987 with a degree in Applied Mathematics. From 1987 to 1991 he worked both as a scientist at the Kiev Institute of Cybernetics, specializing in artificial intelligence research, and as a translator from Japanese. In 1997 Loznitsa graduated from the Russian State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) in Moscow, where he studied feature filmmaking.
Sergei Loznitsa has directed 16 documentary films since 1996 and has received numerous international awards, including festival prizes in Karlovy Vary, Leipzig, Oberhausen, Krakow, Paris, Madrid, Toronto, Jerusalem and St. Petersburg, as well as the Russian National Film awards “Nika” and “Laurel”. Loznitsa’s feature debut My Joy (2010) premiered in competition at the Festival de Cannes, and was followed by In the Fog, which also premiered in competition at the Festival de Cannes in May 2012, where it was awarded the FIPRESCI Prize.
Sergei Loznitsa launched a film production and distribution company ATOMS & VOID in 2013 and continues to work in both documentary and feature genres. His feature-length documentary Maidan, dedicated to the revolution in Ukraine, premiered at the Festival de Cannes in 2014. Loznitsa’s most recent documentary Austerlitz (2016) is a study of the memorial sites open to the public on the locations of former German concentration camps.

Filmography:

2016 AUSTERLITZ (DOCUMENTARY)
2015 THE EVENT (DOCUMENTARY)
2014 THE OLD JEWISH CEMETERY (DOCUMENTARY)
2014 MAIDAN (DOCUMENTARY)
2014 REFLECTIONS/BRIDGES OF SARAJEVO (DOCUMENTARY)
2013 LETTER (DOCUMENTARY)
2012 O MILAGRE DE SANTO ANTÓNIO (DOCUMENTARY)
2012 IN THE FOG (FEATURE)
2010 MY JOY (FEATURE)
2008 NORTHERN LIGHT (DOCUMENTARY)
2006 ARTEL (DOCUMENTARY)
2008 REVUE (DOCUMENTARY)
2005 BLOCKADE (DOCUMENTARY)
2004 FACTORY (DOCUMENTARY)
2003 LANDSCAPE (DOCUMENTARY)
2002 PORTRAIT (DOCUMENTARY)
2001 SETTLEMENT (DOCUMENTARY)
2000 THE TRAIN STOP (DOCUMENTARY)
1998 LIFE, AUTUMN (DOCUMENTARY)
1996 TODAY WE ARE GOING TO BUILD A HOUSE (DOCUMENTARY)
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Cast & Crew

Directed by : Sergei Loznitsa

Written by : Sergei Loznitsa

Produced by : Marianne Slot

Director of Photography : Oleg Mutu

Editor : Danielus Kokanauskis

Production Design : Kirill Shuvalov

Costume Design : Dorota Roqueplo

Hair & Make up Artist : Tamara Frid

Sound Design : Vladimir Golovnitski

Main Cast : Vasilina Makovtseva (Krotkaya (A gentle woman))

Nominations and Awards

  • EFA Feature Film Selection 2017