“Spoor,” directed by the Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland and her daughter, Kasia Adamik, went nearly four years without an American release. At the New York Film Festival the fall after its February 2017 premiere, the critic Amy Taubin, one of its many champions, introduced it as perhaps her favorite film so far that decade. She has interpreted it as a politically charged critique of Polish patriarchy.
Praise that high, for a feature that has not played widely in the United States, makes a skeptic want to leave a light footprint, especially after spending time in the film’s dark, snow-covered landscapes.
A nature reverie wrapped around a mystery, “Spoor” centers on Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat), who lives by herself in rural Poland and loves animals. (She refuses to be called by her first name, Janina.) More than slightly flighty, she uses astrology to gauge people. After her dogs go missing, she takes schoolchildren to whom she’s teaching English on a potentially traumatic nighttime “field trip” to search for them. She continually locks horns with hunters and asks a high-handed priest why “thou shalt not kill” doesn’t apply to killing animals. Then the hunters start to die.
“Spoor” is sensationally atmospheric. The deep bass of the woodwind scoring; the shots of vacant-eyed deer that look like they’re conspiring; the use of limited exterior light; a wintry setting so bone-chilling that, when the action flashes forward to June, the verdant green and Mandat herself are momentarily unrecognizable — all hit on a primal level.
The structure, though, seems counterproductively, even confusingly, elliptical, and the timing of flashbacks muddles the point of view. This is a whodunit that plays tricks with the “who.”