Michael Atkinson in the Voice on My Joy: "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."
"After eluding the authorities, à la Stalker, young truck driver Viktor Nemets chooses to head down a forbidden road and embarks on an episodic journey that creeps to the edge of the surreal and supernatural without going over the line." Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "The driver encounters characters who recall troubling incidents in Russia's past and present, including various hitchhikers and vagabonds, as well as an underage prostitute and hostile soldiers. But Loznitsa ultimately doesn't shadow Nemets that closely; he shifts into discursive bits like a scene of two prostitutes talking shop, or extensive World War II flashbacks, none of which seem to connect to the main thread. An incident halfway through the film appears to send it entirely off the rails, until a tense climactic scene brings the whole thing full circle."
Benjamin Mercer for the L: "Though it's made up largely of digressions and disjunctures — a roadblock movie, perhaps — from the opening shot writer-director Loznitsa makes clear he's taking aim at modern Russia's very foundation: An unidentified corpse gets heaved into a cement mixer, and churned into the glop. Loznitsa doesn't go in for any particularly nuanced diagnostics, but My Joy nonetheless remains a memorable jolt of a debut, a widescreen nightmare of ill will and indefinite national gridlock."
More from Tim Grierson, Eric Kohn (indieWIRE) and Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 3/5). Earlier: Daniel Kasman here in the Notebook, roundups from last year's festivals in Cannes and New York and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's interview with Loznitsa.
Update, 9/30: "With the cinematographer Oleg Mutu, who shot 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, among other Romanian masterworks, Mr Loznitsa finds pictorial beauty — and the suggestion of transcendence that beauty can promise — in the simplest, humblest settings." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "Everywhere in My Joy the faces and the lives are hard, unyielding, and the homes are like ruins of an earlier civilization; still, there is rough kindness too. The world of My Joy is grim, though the experience of watching it and piecing together its fragmented story strands is anything but."
Update, 10/1: "This is not simply another dispatch from Eastern European hell," writes Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot. "[I]t's closer to something abstract and off-kilter like Ilya Khrjanovsky's 4, but even more rigorously metaphorical in its incorporation of 20th century Russian history — in this way it might remind some of Alexei Guerman's masterfully cryptic 1998 Khrustaliov, My Car!, which followed a military doctor's nightmarish journey towards Stalin's deathbed. Loznitsa proves himself to be as sophisticated a digressive storyteller as Guerman with My Joy, a tale of multigenerational hardship that's about nothing less than history's endless cycle of violence."