Thursday, September 19, 2013

Movie Review: In the Fog

In the Fog
Directed by: Sergei Loznitsa.
Written by: Sergei Loznitsa based on the novel by Vasili Bykov.
Starring: Vladimir Svirskiy (Sushenya), Vladislav Abashin (Burov), Sergei Kolesov (Voitik), Nikita Peremotovs (Grisha), Yuliya Peresild (Anelya), Kirill Petrov (Koroban), Dmitrijs Kolosovs (Mishuk), Stepans Bogdanovs (Topchievsky), Dmitry Bykovskiy (Yaroshevich), Vlad Ivanov (Grossmeier), Igor Khripunov (Mirokha), Nadezhda Markina (Burov's mother).

In the Fog is a long, slow, extremely morose movie that takes place in Belarus during the Nazi occupation in WWII. It looks at three Belarusians, each of whom is presented with impossible moral dilemmas in which there is no right or wrong answer. By the time we get to the downbeat ending, you’ll probably agree that the decision the lead character makes at the end – as the fog rolls in, is the only logical thing to do.

The film opens with two partisan soldiers – Burov (Vladislav Abashin) and Voitik (Sergei Kolesov) arriving at the home of Sushenya (Vladimir Svierskiy). They are there to kill him, because they assume that Sushenya is a traitor – four men were arrested, three were hanged, and the fourth, Sushenya, was let go freely. That is all the evidence the partisans need to convict and execute him. After a long talk in Sushenya’s house, the pair take him out deep into the woods, and force him to dig his own grave. Right as Burov is about to put a bullet in Sushenya’s head, the Nazis arrive and shoot Burov, leaving him severely wounded. Instead of running off to freedom, Sushenya instead picks up Burov and tries to carry him to safety. Voitik, who has largely been silent, begrudgingly goes along with him – after all, he doesn’t want to carry Burov himself, and what else is he supposed to do.

The film is built on flashbacks – we see what the three men did that led to their execution (it isn’t really motivated by patriotism, but the desire to get rid of their boss), and what Sushenya did not do with them – and how it was they allowed him to walk free. The film also shows what led both Burov and Voitik to join the partisans, and what led them to Sushenya’s house that day – making it inarguable that of the three of them, the traitor Sushenya, is the only one who hasn’t really done anything wrong. He’s almost a Christ-like figure – dying for everyone else’s sins.

The film was written and directed by Sergei Loznitsa, based on the novel by Vasili Bykov. Loznitsa’s last film, My Joy, was highly praised (and remains unseen by me) for its innovative style and story structure. There is nothing that you would call overly innovative in this film however – it is a classically structured movie, the visual style favoring long, slow tracking shots as the men walk through the forest, and long stationary shots as the rest.

The movie, to put it mildly, is deliberately paced. There are long stretches with little, if any, dialogue and when the characters do speak, they’re in no real hurry to say anything. The dialogue is mostly perfunctory and not very enlightening or interesting. Given these limitations, the performances are about as good as can be expected. I have a feeling that the novel may have gotten over much of the slow, heavy, non-dialogue scenes by replacing them with an inner monologue – but nothing of the sort exists in the movie itself, where we simply sit back and watch these people confront their inevitability of their doom.

The movie is interesting in the why it presents both the Belarusian characters and the Nazis. We expect the Nazis to be evil – and indeed they are, in particularly the one played by Vlad Ivanov, the Romanian actor used often in roles of vile people – like in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or Police, Adjective. What he does in the movie is cruel – but then, he’s a Nazi, what else did you expect. But if anything, Loznitsa is harder on the Belarusians themselves – for turning on each other so easily and treating death so callously. It’s my understanding people in Russia thought that My Joy was overly hard on the Russian people – something In the Fog will likely be accused of as well.

I liked part of In the Fog – it is an interesting, well made and for the most part well acted film. But god is it a slow film – a morose slog where you starting preying about an hour into the movie for the characters to just die already and put them out of their misery. It isn’t a bad film by any means – but I sure wouldn’t want to have to sit through it a second time.

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