Defense of the Last Scene

in 70th Cannes International Film Festival

by Silvana Silvestri

We now enter into another inferno created by Sergei Loznitsa, A Gentle Creature (Krotkaya), a film presented at the Cannes festival, even as the memory of tourists at the Holocaust monument in his film Austerlitz has not yet disappeared. He is a literary documentarian, in this case for the many references that make up the picture, the social situation, the popular and classical music quotations. The picture is a fictional reportage on the peregrinations of “a gentle woman” who decides to find out what happened to her husband, imprisoned “for nothing” and no longer traceable.

She is overcome not only by the bureaucratic vortex. She is helpless to react, but ready to follow any shortcut or promise of a possible solution: She is surrounded by a frantic society, trapped in a situation without any way out. If it weren’t for the multitude of references to Slavic culture, it would seem that Loznitsa were composing the Inferno chapter of a Comedy, but without divine judgment.

We are therefore intrigued by the reaction of the audience, enchanted by the rhythm and the style of the film, and finally annoyed by the last scene, in which we find all the protagonists free of their everyday clothes: policemen, state employees, ticket clerks, fixers, lawyers, faculty, Mafia bosses, old witches, drunkards and whores, in a sort of presentation of all the public and subtle functions of society, guests of a great reception where each one offers their own full dedication and loyalty to power.

Although for different reasons, everyone is equally accountable for the situation.

It is useless to look for Fellini models in that convocation of white dresses, between gold and purple: The setting is much farther away from the Italian cinema’s bonhomie than from the end of neo-realism, crowded with figurine screens and musical sketches. Here we are in a hopeless place. References are better sought in the satire of banquets of notables staged by certain Soviet movies, in which they applied the tradition of the endless ritual that couldn’t come close to the satire of the “nova vlna,” as in the “Little Daisies” (Sedmikrásky) by the Czech director Vera Chytilova. In this movie, a magnificent table was completely destroyed, so far away from the people’s frugal meals. Or Chytilova’s compatriot Jan Nemec’s A Report on the Party and the Guests (O slavnosti a hostech), where elegant characters, staged as unrecognizable archetypes, are “forced” to participate in the banquet while troubled by interrogators in a chilling climate (not surprisingly, the two films were catalogued by the censors as anti-Soviet).

In Loznitsa’s film’s banquet scene, constructed as a dream, the typical directorial spin returns, reinforcing the concept that will be etched in the spectator’s mind: Each individual is jointly responsible in the same way as the situation in which he lives, a universal designation in spite of the references to bygone, typical Soviet times.

The Western viewer raised to favor classically composed artwork will find repulsive this sarabande, the pulsating insistence of this declamatory and imperative nightmare, built to prepare us for the real end of the film, a disturbing scene that reminds us we are not participating in a comfortable story that fits within our own parameters of harmony. In fact, the nightmare continues with a scene of rare photographic invention in which only a flash reveals that the “gentle woman” is being transported in a police van. It is understood that she is raped several times without any reaction, a symbol of an overwhelmed country. Then comes the real “ending.” The woman wakes up, and her awakening is a relentless return to reality: Everything is just as it was before, without a way out.

Edited by Alissa Simon