The official selection for Academy Awards consideration from Poland, Spoor, depicts a small hunting-obsessed community in rural Poland.
One older woman (a funny, truly original Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka) decides to speak up against the disturbing atrocities committed on animals. At the same time and eerily enough, many prominent hunters in the community become the hunted themselves. It appears that the animals they kill may be retaliating, but the truth is unclear.
As an animal rights advocate myself, this film was high on my list to check out at AFI this year. Unfortunately, most of the film moves at an uncompelling pace and more often than not, failed to capture my attention. Rather than providing any new perspective on the debate of human-animal relationships, it takes the most extreme black-and-white approach to the conflict. The good guys are animal lovers, vegetarians, and would never kill an animal. The bad guys are warmongering, bloodthirsty meat-eaters. This logic creates a very easy and cohesive narrative but makes the problem so simple that any application to the much more complex real world is impossible. It does the animal-loving community no favors.
Eventually, ‘Spoor’ does reveal a major twist and yet, once again, keeps the simple narrative that animal lovers are good and hunters are evil even though it is clear that there is much more moral ambiguity in this small town.
Additionally, the pace at which the film moves is unbearably slow. If it had moved at a more brisk pace, perhaps the film could have felt tense and thrilling. Instead, each of the murders is so spaced out, it isn’t hard to forget who the person is that is dying. The animals are supposedly killing these men, but even that mystery ends up being more confusing than gripping.
If Spoor does have a silver lining, it comes from the lead performance. Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka feels a bit like a batty Mrs. Weasley, an endearing maternal figure who will not be silenced by the patriarchal and archaic traditions of the town. She’s lively and engaging in most of her scenes, and I imagine with a stronger film she could have even landed buzz for her great performance. Some supporting performers get moments to shine, but ultimately the film belongs to her.
Eventually, Spoor does reveal a major twist and yet, once again, keeps the simple narrative that animal lovers are good and hunters are evil even though it is clear that there is much more moral ambiguity in this small town. I imagine there is some local subtext that as a non-Polish speaker I don’t quite understand, and yet this is a thin excuse considering I’ve seen brilliant and universal films from equally remote cultures and regions. While it may not be among my favorite selection, Spoor still represents the eclectic, international perspectives that AFI brilliantly curates every year.
‘Spoor’ is not rated. 128 minutes.