Strong female characters so often result in unique and fascinating films. Putting a heroine inside a scenario where they have no choice but to fight back, no matter how small the situation, inevitably leads to a revolution. Playing on this idea with dark, apprehensive tones is ’Spoor’, where our protagonist fights for those unable to do so themselves.
Set in rural Poland, Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka), a retired engineer and now part-time English teacher, is looked down upon by the eminent men in her village. She studies astrology and is an adamant vegetarian, a fact that doesn’t sit well with the local hunting population. When these poachers start dying in grisly murders, Duszejko believes that animals are rising up and seeking their revenge - however, it seems something much darker is at play…
‘Spoor’ is shot with a spectacular beauty. Filmed on location in the Klodzko Valley, the 45-day shooting schedule takes place in both lush, green, sunny meadows and desolate, sprawling snow fields, as the story plays out over the course of a year. Both seasons are captured with a bleak elegance by cinematographers Jolanta Dylewska (‘In Darkness’, ‘Tulpan’) and Rafal Paradowski.
Despite clocking in at over two hours, the story never feels boring or drawn out. There are a lot of intricacies to take in, and as ‘Spoor’ is primarily structured as a thriller, every detail counts. Besides Duszejko’s loathing of the poaching - both legal and illegal - she's generally dismissed by the village’s male authority figures as a “crazy old lady”; indeed she has some eccentricities, but she’s adored by her students and takes the town’s downtrodden under her wing. She has her allies - her kind yet closed-off neighbour Matoga (Wiktor Zborowski), Dyzio (Jakub Gierszal, ’Dracula Untold’), her man on the inside of the police force, downtrodden confidant Good News (Patrycja Volny), and her lover and entomologist Boros (Miroslav Krobot).
While chiefly a thriller, the ingenuity of ‘Spoor’ comes from its genre-bending story by Olga Tokarczuk (whose book 'Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead' the film is based on) and Agnieszka Holland (the co-director). Introducing elements of a murder mystery with savage brutality of humans and animals alike, whilst littering the story with comedy and romance, gives the film a surreal quality. Particularly as the second act draws to a close and the climax of the story kicks in, there’s always an unexpected twist waiting around the corner.
Latching on to an escalating madness - both in mental stability and fury - you cannot help but side with Duszejko as she endures the elite’s impertinence and the authorities’ complacency.
Mandat-Grabka is the centre point of the film, and her portrayal of Duszejko is genius. Latching on to an escalating madness - both in mental stability and fury - you cannot help but side with her as she endures the elite’s impertinence and the authorities’ complacency. She’s a whirlwind of power, defying the forces trying to keep her tethered. Zborowski as the neighbour full of secrets has great fun, a dark character with a lot of surprises. Gierszal is also a delight as the police IT expert, and is key for many of the lighter moments in this otherwise shadowy story.
You may come out of ‘Spoor’ a little rattled, but also somewhat surprised. For a film dealing so heavily in morals, it does discard them loose and fast, but not at the sacrifice of continuity or character motivations. It’s a particularly twisted film, starting as a defenceless wolf cub and growing into a vicious, vengeant creature. Back an animal in a corner, and it will fight back. ‘Spoor’ strikes with all its might.