Meet Sergei Loznitsa – The Not Rohit Shetty

Each time I watch a Bollywood movie, an urgent need to rinse my mouth with two good foreign films overwhelms me.

Having recently inflicted upon myself the masochistic trauma of sitting through Ajay Devgan’s latest emetic Singham Returns, I was besides myself in agony.

How in Heaven’s name can this Rohit Shetty mis-directed turdpile Singham Returns even be called a movie except by a large pack of Neanderthals for whom the sight of one adult ape battering another’s skull is a trigger for screaming howls of ecstasy (yielding Rs 100-crore to the producers in five days).

So as a purgatory exercise, I fell back upon my routine of seeking solace in a couple of fine films.

This time I discovered Sergei Loznitsa, a little known maker of Russian films.

Loznitsa is, of course, a name familiar to discerning moviegoers in Europe and North America but in India he’s unknown material.

A documentary maker from Ukraine, Sergei Loznitsa is a relative newcomer to the feature film business.

Loznitsa toiled as a documentary filmmaker for 15 years before venturing into feature films.

His first feature film was Schaste moe (My Joy), which came out in 2010.

After a warm reception from critics, Loznitsa followed with V tumane (In the Fog) in 2012. This film too attracted accolades from connoiseurs of classy films.

Thanks to Netflix, I watched both Russian films (with English subtitles) recently.

Impressive Films

To say I was delighted with both films would be an understatement.

Set in different eras, the two films are united in their dark gaze on humanity and remarkable for the brilliant craftsmanship Loznitsa brings to the screen.

The stories, centering around everyday violence, corruption and callousness that place little value on human life, are powerful and a telling social commentary on Russia/Ukraine, and by extension on the world itself.

I sat back and delighted in the acting, photography and screenplay of both films.

Neither of the films is in a hurry (even the shots are drawn out).

They take their own sweet time to get to the end but not for one moment did I feel bored.

As I’ve said often, there are only good films and bad films. Not long or short films.

My Joy

Of the two movies, Schaste moe (My Joy) is the more complex and compelling one.

Unless you pay careful attention, you’re inclined to be quickly adrift with this film.

At first glance, it would appear as if the movie was merely a collection of different disconnected incidents.

Actually, No.

The movie is about a truck driver Georgy (Viktor Nemets) who takes a wrong turn and falls victim to a bunch of unsavory elements who attack him after he loses his way in the woods.

If you think Indian society is full of knaves and charlatans, well, thank your stars you’re not in Russia, Ukraine or any of the nations of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

Russia and its satellites are beyond the pale in the coarseness of the people and the brutal contempt they exhibit to fellow humans.

Sometimes I’m inclined to believe that Russia would descend into chaos without the strong arm of a Stalin or Putin. So fetid is the Russian soil that only a monster can hold the nation and prevent an apocalyptic inferno from consuming everything.

A wrong turn is all it takes for the good Gregory’s life to be upended by human wolves more sinister and more savage than the deadliest wolf in these icy climes.

Although the film may occasionally seem to move away from our truck driver Georgy, fear not. If he’s not centerstage then he’s on the periphery. You’ll see Gregory if you pay attention.

Occasionally, the movie goes back in time to the Nazi era where we witness two Russian soldiers killing their generous host in a remote village as his young boy lies next to him.

Violence, corruption, ingratitude, preying upon others and all things base, are they unique only to the Russian soil?

Or is depravity inherent in the human condition everywhere? I know the answer to that question. But do you.

In the Fog

Although more straightforward in approach compared to My Joy, In the Fog is actually more chilling vis-a-vis the fate of our central character.

Set during the Nazi occupation of the Western front of erstwhile Soviet Union, the film depicts a bizarre cruelty.

The local Nazi commander plays an inhuman trick on our protagonist Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy) condemning him to a living death every day of his free life.

Suspected as an informer by the locals, shunned by all including his wife who wishes he were dead and loathed by the partisans who view him as a collaborator and traitor, Sushenya’s fate is miserable.

And then two partisans come for him one night as if to confirm the chronicle of a death foretold for Sushenya.

Certain of his imminent killing, the Jesus-resembling Sushenya steps out of his house and starts digging his grave. Literally.

Again, fate intervenes. Cruelly.

War claims many victims, sometimes in ways unthinkable.

Director Loznitsa adapted In the Fog from Vasiliy Bykov’s novel The Ordeal. strongly encourages you to check out My Joy and In the Fog.

I have not the slightest doubt you’ll thrill to these two Russian gems from Sergei Loznitsa as much as I did.

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