First Hit: Somewhat confusing, as this film tries to make too many sociological points and wants to be a mystery as well.
What I didn't walk away with was knowing if this film was about honoring and living with nature, gun control, the state of a fading Polish democracy, or women’s rights and a willingness to change all these.
Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka) is a women who lives alone in the Klodzko Valley in Poland. She had two dogs, is an astrologer, vegetarian and teaches part time at an elementary school. She is loved by her students as she teaches them about nature and joy.
Early on, she comes home to find her dogs missing. She searches far and wide, puts up posters everywhere, asks friends and the police department, and even her students help her, but to no avail.
There are lots of hunting scenes in the film and to make this point a calendar is shown at key segments listing what can be lawfully hunted in that particular month. There are scenes that saddened me greatly as they show animals being killed by hunters. There is also a local man who captures and cages foxes only to skin them for money. We see these foxes in their cages.
Often when Janina hears the gunfire of the hunters, she either races to where the hunters are located and yells at them to stop, or she goes to the police and asks them to do their job as hunters are killing animals that are not on the monthly list.
The police think she’s just a crazy old lady who is an advocate for gun control and strict hunting regulations.
There are lots of scenes where you notice how men treat women poorly and as second class citizens.
One day one of her neighbors comes to her house and says another neighbor, whom she calls Big Foot, is dead. Together they go to this man's house. She’s not very sad that he’s died but neither is her neighbor. She hated Big Foot because he used illegal traps to snare animals. Waiting for the police to come she finds a picture in his home that she keeps.
Shortly after the death of Big Foot, other hunters start dying. She and others find these bodies and the only tracks around the bodies are deer hoof prints. At one point, she rants to the police that the animals are attacking the hunters for revenge. But when the church burns down the mystery of who is killing the hunters opens the question even wider.
Anyway, there are lots of points being made in this film. The darkness of the subject matters are enhanced because of the clouded sky, the location, and because many of the scenes are shot with little lighting. It is not a bright film. Conversely, there are some funny moments in this dark film and many of them have to do with Duszejko’s interest in astrology and the young man who helps her.
Mandat-Grabka was strong as this in-touch with nature and idealized woman who has strong beliefs. Wiktor Zbrowski as her neighbor Matoga is great. Jakub Gierszal as the young man, who works for the police office, is very capable with computers, and has befriended by Duszejko, is wonderful. His enthusiasm and simplicity of living is great. He's a bright spot in this film. Patrycja Volny is fantastic as the beautiful shop keeper who is being kept by the man who cages the foxes. Her movement towards breaking herself free is wonderful. Miroslav Krobot as the entomologist who teaches Duszejko about how beetles and bugs work together to clean up dead flesh was great. His singing of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ was perfect. Olga Tokarczuk and Agnieszka Holland wrote a slightly over complicated screenplay that felt like it carried too many themes. Holland and Kasia Adamik co-directed this film. I cannot tell you if they purposefully created all these themes or if I projected them, however it complicated my viewing and understanding the film. There were too many physically dark scenes, and this didn’t help the overall film. I thought some of them could have used more lighting, thereby helping engagement to the story.
Overall: This film couldn't seem to decide if it wanted to make a point of if it was a mystery.