Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: In the Fog (Sergei Loznitsa, 2012)

I first watched In the Fog at last year's Melbourne International Film Festival. This review first appeared in my diary coverage.

In the Fog, directed by Ukranian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, is a sparse, minimalist war drama that premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, winning the FIPRESCI Prize. Set on the German occupied western frontiers of the USSR in 1942. The extraordinary opening shot sets the tone for the rest of the film and establishes that three men have been hung by the Nazis as punishment for being saboteurs. A fourth member of the railroad unit, an innocent man named Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy), is mysteriously let go, but not before being offered a deal to collaborate with the Nazis.

Though he refuses, he is still let go, but once rumour spreads that he may have cut a deal with the Germans and betrayed his comrades, two partisans turn up at his house, prompt him to bring a shovel and escort him into the forest. A twist of fate leaves Sushenya alive and one of his escorts wounded, and faced with a moral dilemma he continues to save not only his own dignity, but also those in his company. We are privileged to flashbacks of the stories of each of the three central characters, and learn why Sushenya was hunted.

It is incredibly stark, grim and atmospheric, and comparable (though far less impacting) to Elem Klimov's 1985 masterpiece, Come and See, but it's a drawn-out slow burner which does begin to drain a viewer's attention. There are some very powerful scenes and the photography is absolutely sublime. The hypnotic, lengthy takes compel, and Sushenya's story - which includes him carrying death on his shoulders like his own cross - is the most haunting. Loznitsa's film is a powerful psychological study of murky moral decisions, being forced to come to terms with guilt and the decision on whether to maintain one's honour or simply give up. In the Fog is a film I will never ever revisit, because the narrative is so methodical and stretched out, but this is a language of filmmaking with plenty to admire.

My Rating: ★★★

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