Cul-de-sac of death in My Joy

Fabien Lemercier, www.cineuropa.org, 19.05.2010

The only debut feature presented in competition this year at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival, Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa’s My Joy yesterday plunged the press into a totally black world where thieves abound, impunity reigns, the roads lead nowhere and the mark of war sows chaos contaminating minds from generation to generation.

Ultra-nihilistic and offering a terrifying image of small-town Russia, the film reveals an original director with strong potential, who is particularly bold (far too bold, some will say) in his screenwriting approach and has outstanding visual talent that draws on the best of his experience as a documentary filmmaker.

Structured around a series of different stories (a lost lorry driver who comes across a trio of thieves, a military serviceman robbed by a policeman, a child who witnesses his father’s murder, a strange household who live by their wits, some soldiers who try to bring someone’s body back to the family, power abuses by the road police), My Joy unfolds over several temporal dimensions with two flashbacks looking back to the end of the Second World War and leaps in time that are difficult to define in the contemporary era. There emerges from this a surprising maelstrom that is vaguely clarified by the connections and recurrent appearances of characters and the parallels between several stories.

This canvas with multiple branches perfectly illustrates the social disintegration at the heart of the film (homeless people in the countryside, gangs in villages, economic underclass): disturbing characters appear suddenly, violence breaks out without warning, the loss of reference points opens the door to the law of weapons and exploitation of the slightest ounce of power.

This society of death whose extreme portrait is magnified by extraordinarily rich camerawork (by DoP Oleg Mutu – 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [trailer, film focus]) and incredible realism (through a cast combining professional and non-professional actors) intrigued and irritated the press in equal measure. Its cleverly maintained confusion and extravagant ending unfortunately detracts a little from this German/Ukrainian/Dutch co-production which is nonetheless one of the most innovative of the Cannes competition so far.