Imagine the early, hellaciously bleak work of Cormac McCarthy transposed to the corrupt outlands of modern Russia and/or Ukraine and composed with a steely psychopath's disregard for cohesion, and you have something like Sergei Loznitsa's debut feature, a two-hour-plus decathlon of evil cross-purposes and runaway iniquity. A documentarian by trade, Loznitsa trusts his camera and distrusts dialogue, just as does his dire landscape's assortment of feral mercenaries, whores, scroungers, and cutthroats. My Joy begins with a body tossed—splat—into a cement-filled pit and covered by a tractor in broad daylight; you forget about this gob in the eye soon enough and instead follow a wary truck driver (Viktor Nemets) trying to deliver his load but having his "story" get mangled, sidelined, and hijacked. Mysterious strangers, inexplicable stoppages, leaps into the future, the ubiquitous presence of one kind of Russian bottomfeeder or another—all are shot with a restraint and gravity that's almost terrifying. With a wandering dolly or a single abrupt cut, the narrative jumps the tracks, years pass, dramas end badly offscreen. Exuding the DNA of compatriot movies like Aleksey Balabanov's Cargo 200 and Ilya Khrjanovsky's 4, My Joy is a maddening vision and one of the year's must-see provocations.
Domestic felicity (with Nemets at left) in the rubble of the former USSR.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., Jan. 20-Thurs., Jan. 26. Not rated. 127 minutes.