Sydney Film Festival Review: Spoor (Poland, 2017) explores the extent of one woman’s compassion

Agnieszka Holland creates a character to love and to loath in Spoor, the Polish thriller-comedy that follows one woman’s passion for animal justice in a town that doesn’t share the same sentiments. Spoor, meaning the tracks left by an animal, is a film that rarely falls from the trail, coming together as a poignant comedy with lead actress Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka at the film’s vanguard.

Although they share just one scene, the relationship between Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka) and her two border collies illustrates the depth of their bond; you get the feeling they are all she has. Her affection for animals extends beyond her two dogs and to anything with a heartbeat, forming an uneasy relationship with the local hunters who fail to obey the hunting rules for each season.

After her two dogs disappear, Duszejko suspects that the hunters are involved, only until they start turning up dead one by one. Without much help from the local police force Duszejko continues to advocate for the animals murdered out of season, while the police search for the serial killer that’s turning the tide on the hunters.

Agnieszka Holland has taken a break from her past six years directing in TV to return to feature length with the novel adaption Spoor. There are lessons to be learned from her protagonist, handled with intensity and pathos by a sublime Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka.

Duszejko is both frustrating to watch, repelling advice or good intentions to make way for her animal equality discourse, and fomenting in her absolute compassion for animals. By the final scene, all of her discretions have washed by and every outburst and emotional blunder is quantified, leaving only a saint who has committed herself completely to the lives of others. The supporting characters are too far more than distractions, with their own stories weaving Poland’s dark history through the narrative and adding emotional-depth to Duszejko and her cause.

Shot in the gloomy countryside of Poland, the cinematography ushers the film along a timeline of seasons, from the heavy snow to clear summer skies, using the surroundings to establish how much time has passed between each murder. The clever use of infographs dictating which animal can be hunted in each season also transitions the film from date to date.

While Spoor puts a lot of effort into realizing the passion of animal rights advocates, it never gets lost in the animal sentience debate, and is as much about the compassion of those who fight than the lives of the animals themselves. With the exception of a few black spots in the narrative, Spoor is a powerful film primed to prod the hearts of anyone with love for animals.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Spoor was reviewed at the Sydney Film Festival