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CIFF: My Joy

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 12, 2010 6:40PM

2010_10_CIFF_MyJoy.jpg This is part of Chicagoist's coverage of the Chicago International Film Festival.

Director Sergei Loznitsa's eye for detail was honed through years of documentary film-making. In his debut feature, there are moments of great beauty and startling frankness — revelatory images of stark, rural life in Russia that themselves feel like documentary. The performances flow with ease and the editing together of its long takes is pleasingly transparent. Yet here is probably no film more off-putting at the Chicago International Film Festival than My Joy, even as you may want to see it a second time to be sure.

It begins as a sort of picaresque through contemporary Russia (although filmed in the Ukraine), as truck driver Georgi steers his load through the back country of former empire. Small detours lead to big ones, and each encounter along the way becomes a bit more alarming. The weak are at the mercy of the powerful in Loznitsa's catalog of the grim parables of a bleak planet. About the time the narrative graduates from wizened hitchhikers and shockingly-young prostitutes to violent thieves, the film itself takes a drastic turn which is better experienced than described. Suffice it to say that Georgi gets lost in a hellish backwater of a village, and so do we.

The viewer becomes the only thing holding together the parade of increasing cruelty, with help from clinically dispassionate photography. The film manages to be simultaneously thrilling and disturbing with minimal dialog, My Joy is a unique work which deserves recognition, along with a MPAA warning for extreme nihilism.

My Joy screens October 12, 14 and 19.