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If you are a fan of Fyodor Dostoevsky and are seeking a loyal adaptation of his 1876 short story A Gentle Creature, the 2017 film under the same title may seem unsatisfying on a surface level. Fifty years after legendary French director Robert Bresson’s 1969 film A Gentle Woman, the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa returns the tale back to its motherland and immerses it in post-Soviet-Union Russia’s cultural landscape. It is about a pawnshop owner’s attempt to decipher the cause of his young wife’s sudden suicide, but unlike Bresson’s close adherence to the literary text, Loznitsa renders the original tale unrecognizable. However, if careful viewers were to follow the film’s original plot, they might find a familiarly candid examination of human apathy and alienation.

In Loznitsa’s world, the “gentle creature” is no longer a fresh-faced young beauty. In her 30s, the anonymous woman pokes around a prison town’s many corners in order to gather clues for a returned parcel directed to her incarcerated husband. She stubbornly stays in the damned town, her razor-thin figure appearing excruciatingly vulnerable and lonely among the many grotesquely overweight bodies of men and women, who all only feign offering support. And like a sharp and cool razor blade, she resolves to cut to the heart of the truth, despite the police’s varied tactics: they ignore her, deny help, and even threaten her life. Thanks to Russian actress Vasilina Makovtseva’s phenomenal interpretation of the titular character, the unnamed heroine projects an air of mystery and a quiet source of intimidation.

There are several times throughout the film that the close-up shots of Makovtseva’s face reminded me of French actress Marion Cotillard in the 2014 film Two Days, One Night. In that film, Cotillard’s character Sandra is surprised to find that she faces the risk of losing her job unless she is able to convince at least half of her colleagues to give up their worker bonuses over a weekend. Both films show their respective heroines going around small towns and seeking every possible trace of help. However, invariably, both women are seen trapped within the camera frame, just like their will to transcend the dreadful situations. Like Cotillard, Makovtseva’s performance in A Gentle Creature conveys the tremendous struggles of a woman’s lone fight against an unfair system, and her unshakable dignity in the face of an abysmal situation. While Two Days, One Night sets the majority of film in broad daylight, A Gentle Creature seems to be cast in an atmosphere of perpetual darkness; even the occasional scenes set in daytime merely feel like precursors to long, cold nights.

Despite the significant changes made to the original story’s plot, the film preserves the written text’s cold and detached tone towards the investigation of a tragedy, maintaining a suspenseful tension throughout. Dostoevsky’s gentle creature is frugal with her words and reserved in her emotions. It is Loznitsa’s creative talent in visual storytelling that revives the threads of dreariness in Dostoevsky’s short story; he forcibly situates the silently observant heroine in the surroundings of many inane and rowdy conversations, in places like a shabby brothel and the train cart. It is no wonder that the woman’s beseeching requests for help are drowned out by the noises of the crowd. When I first read the original story in sophomore year, the tragic core seemed to lie in the fact that the woman lacked a voice with which to narrate her own life. Instead, her suicide is entirely framed by her selfish husband’s unreliable narration, and is portrayed as a symptom of severe depression.

The stunning dream sequence at the end marks the film’s pinnacle, where the boundary between dream and reality blurs, and where a few deceiving glimpses of hope only makes a devastating blow of violence all the more shuddering and bone-chilling. The finale’s tragic grandeur alone makes the 2 hours and 23 minutes a worthy viewing experience.