After having watched the trials and tribulations of the lead character in this film for more than two hours, I realized I didn't even know her name. Did I miss it somehow? No, I didn't. Her name is not mentioned even once, and in the credits she is referred to as 'the gentle creature'.
This is symbolic for the dehumanization of the Russian society, which is the main subject of this film. Citizens are not seen as human creatures that need help, assistance or simply a kind smile, but as inconveniences, causes for trouble and objects for complaints. The whole society seems to consist of bitter, demoralized and cynical people.
The film shows how the nameless woman travels to a huge prison in an isolated town in Siberia, to visit her husband. The package she sent him was returned to sender, so she wants to find out what happened. During her long search she has to confront rude prison officials, corrupt police officers, greedy pimps, drunk lodgers, nostalgic nationalists and a disheartened human rights activist. The woman endures everything with admirable patience. Her facial expression remains completely even, whatever happens to her, and she only speaks when strictly necessary.
The movie is filmed in slow, almost contemplative scenes. The audience has to be patient, just as the woman. But the film is far from boring. The viewer completely identifies with the woman. After every deception, you're asking yourself: what next? What can be worse? An important aspect is the very clever cinematography. In several scenes, the director starts by showing a conversation or an event that is seemingly unattached to the story, only to show the connection after several minutes. A good example is the scene in the train taking the woman from her village to the prison town. We see four train passengers discussing the fate of the Russian state, until the camera turns, showing the woman sitting in a corner of the compartment, silently observing the goings-on.
The situations sometimes get so absurd that the viewer hesitates between laughing or crying. When asking for directions, the woman is told: 'Just look out for a burned house. A friend of mine died there.' It's something this film has in common with the films of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, who also shows ordinary men and women struggling in their daily existence. At times, even David Lynch comes to mind. That is particularly the case in the last part of the film. This dream sequence takes a quite different turn, and it is open to question if it makes the film better or worse. There's something to say for both, but in any case it adds an extra dimension that is worth thinking about. In this dream sequence, the Ukrainian director seems to hammer home his point: Russia is a deplorable country.
Keep in mind, Ukraine is still at war with Russian-supported militia over the control of its Eastern parts. As an insult to Vladimir Putin, this film doesn't miss its target.