Well, I've learned a new word at this year's LFF. Spoor - the track or scent of an animal. There you go. Learning as we go here. Agnieszka Holland and Kasia Adamik's movie Pokot (to give it its Polish title) is a curious beast, but a very well made one.
Grumpy 'older lady' Janina Duszejko lives out in the countryside with her two beloved dogs. She spends her days teaching primary school kids part time at the local school and fighting the local hunters as they flagrantly disregard the laws, something the local police seem entirely uninterested in dealing with. When her dogs go missing and her neighbour dies in his bed, Duszejko is convinced that something weird is going on in the forest and that the long suffering animals are somehow connected. When the chief of police and local hunting lodge owner and all round arsehole Wnetrzak also die mysteriously, it seems she might have a point...
Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka is great as the irascible Duszejko (persistently correcting people's mispronunciation of Duszenjko at every opportunity). She is curmudgeonly and relentless but at the same time warm and caring to the people she respects. It's this fine balance within the character that really makes her compelling. She moves easily from shrieking in the police chief's face when the hapless buffoon is forced to admit they could have reacted quicker to her reports of nefarious animal cruelty (indeed, they had not acted at all), to gently easing the abused Dobra away from her sneering moron of a husband / employer / pimp.
And it's around this impressive central performance that the directors hang their movie. The hunting seasons are marked off on an onscreen calendar as we go, as if to prove the ludicrous nature of the idea (the list of creatures for each month is extensive). As the snow swirls of Christmas give way to the blistering heat of June, Duszejko continues her one woman crusade against cruelty to all animals.
Holland and Adamik brilliantly contrast the gorgeous landscape backdrops with the detailed, grim horror of hunting as gurning middle-aged men proudly show off their trophies and the local clergyman insists that animals are soulless and therefore not worthy of god's pronouncement 'thy shall not kill'. As Duszejko listens to these bloated idiots talk, the camera zooms in on the speakers lips, graphically demonstrating the shallowness of the words spewing forth.
Spoor is a wonderful character study and a decent whodunit to boot. It's about 20 minutes too long with a final act spends too long to wrap things up, if they needed wrapping up, but I'm prepared to forgive that transgression for Mandat-Grabka's superbly balanced and nuanced performance. A character that could easily have just come off as 'awkward old hag' is transformed into an affecting and deeply human role. This is a movie that can't help but make you wonder where we'd be if the animals were also violent nut jobs.