Spoor ★★½


There is a level of frantic emotion that courses through Agnieszka Holland's Spoor (a film she co-directed with her daughter, Kasia Adamik) that is truly jarring. On its surface, this is the story of an elderly Polish woman, Dusjezko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka), who is such an animal lover that she believes that the usual course of hunting season is an affront of butchery. Never mind that she complains to the authorities about poaching and off-season kills. She clearly wants to put a stop to all animal killing if she can, which makes her seem to be a crackpot to the community at large.

Spoor eventually becomes occupied with a group of (human) murders, mostly of hunters and poachers. But this is a bit of a distraction from the actual drama of Dusjezko's crusade. The fact that she is an animal rights activist, of sorts, is never addressed in the film. We are to understand that in this snowy, hyper-masculine corner of Poland, such ideas are unthinkable. They do not exist. By contrast, we watch as Dusjezko's pleas are met with exaggerated dismissal. The local priest emphatically tells her that the Bible tells "Man" to subdue the earth, and animals have no souls anyway, so what difference does it make? Likewise, the police simply roll their eyes until asserting, with a bit too much gusto, that hunting is good and who cares about a bunch of animals anyway?

In its dystopian dimension, Spoor reminded me a bit of Jane Campion's Top of the Lake series, with its tendency to state deeply held misogynist beliefs outright, violent men speaking their ideology proudly like latter-day Simon LeGrees. And Holland does seem to watch to draw an unspoken parallel between the total disregard for wildlife and the deep-seated hatred of women like "hysterical" Dusjezko or benighted shopgirl "Good News" (Patrycja Volny), treated like a whore by her ostensible boyfriend / local tough Dyzio (Jakub Gierszal).

But the odd streak that sets Spoor off-kilter is its lack of a rational center. Dusjezko is incapable of modulating her passion for animals to the point that someone might listen. In fact, she has a romantic interlude with Boros (Miroslav Krobot), a traveling entomologist who impresses her by loving insects as much as she loves deer and wild boar. Likewise, the men of Spoor take so much obvious relish in destroying living beings that they cannot normalize hunting. Instead, they explicitly prove Dusjezko's point.

This led me to wonder whether Holland intends Spoor to be read allegorically. There's nothing in the film, apart from the fever pitch of its ideas, to signal that this reading is encouraged. But if it were, Spoor would make a lot more sense. (In fact, this being Poland, I thought perhaps the film was actually about abortion. When Boros describes the destruction of insect larvae as a "holocaust," it struck me as language that would make even PETA blanch.) Holland has made a film that is compelling in large part because it resonates like a transmission from some distant planet that looks like our own but remains utterly alien.

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