Keswick Film Club - Reviews - In The Fog

Reviews - In The Fog

In The Fog

Reviewed By John Porter

In The Fog
In The Fog
The exasperating power of circumstance to destroy, leaving only tragedy in its wake, is an oft examined theme of many artworks. The weight, combined with the deceptive simplicity of such a topic however demands a special piece to tackle it with any success, and it could be argued that Sergei Loznitsa's adaptation of Vasili Bykov's novel, 'V tumane/In the Fog', is just this.

We enter our tale in the wastes of Axis occupied Belarus, in a village where three men are about to be hanged for allegedly working with the Partisans. We follow the men closely in a long, steady, hand-held shot down to the execution arena, a circle of dirt where families, soldiers and farm animals have gathered together. At one point a woman bursts out of the crowd and onto the procession in hysterics, interrupting the steadiness of the cinematography. Still though we do not cut, instead becoming the centre of the frenzy until the woman has been dragged back and the shot left to continue with solemnity. When the actual killing of the rebels takes place, the camera finally comes to rest - on a cart of gnawed rib cages still red from life, and a pig snuffling the ground beside them. Loznitsa and his cinematographer, Oleg Mutu, have set the tone of the movie to follow.

There are four clearly distinct sections of activity in this shot: the trudge to death, the interruption of the old woman's emotion, the continued trudge, and the finale of bones, yet they are presented all in one take. In doing this, the atmosphere achieves a stubborn fixation on the present moment, and with it the sense that this passage of events will continue to the bitter end. This aura of inevitability continues throughout the next two hours, and is especially noticeable in the following scene at Sushenya's (Vladimir Svirskiy) house. Inside the simple abode, Sushenya's hushed tones with Burov (Vladislav Abashin) who has come to collect his friend for yet another execution, give no resistance to the flow of events that all silently acknowledge. Soon, Sushenya's wife enters, and as they sit with their young son she whispers that, "this is not what people do." Their seating around a table, and the mutterings of, "lard and onion", take on a pathetic, semi-surreal tone. However, they continue to, "do", and Burov takes Sushenya to be shot on the strength of supposition.

Although the cinematographic style is easily praised due to its conspicuous nature, the sound design of the movie deserves equal attention for its expressiveness, and is used to great effect in this sequence. Throughout the film the sound recording is overly sensitive, so picking up every tiny nuance of noise for our scrutiny. The background of the aural tapestry is for the most part quiet, so emphasis is placed onto these minuscule details; The catching of Sushenya's breath as he runs from guns in the dark, the wet clicking of dry throats clearing, the crunch of snow, the wind rushing pine needles. All these become the foregrounded sound, forcing us, as does the lingering camera work, to take notice of the beautifully accidental and often tragic poetry of the situation.

As they walk through the woods with Votik (Sergei Kolesov) to Sushenya's place of death it becomes clear that the movie is working on the ideas of choice and circumstance, and that the human figures are helpless, trapped within an relentless shaft of time. In several key sections of the story, Loznitsa elongates the pivotal moment of choice which the character faces, often with a rifle pointed directly at the camera lens as the eyes of the protagonist behind the firearm hesitate in an excruciatingly long pause before continuing on into the story. On the most basic level these instances provide the suspense of whether the character will go through with the action, but the more the narrative becomes concerned with the power of events to take control of the men living them, the more these moments become battles in themselves. There is a questioning here of whether there actually is any choice, and the long-shots in these moments highlight the ineffectiveness of the characters against some pre-determined destiny.

Mutu's cinematography is an expanse of washed-out bleakness, giving another angle of futility to a war where neighbour turns on neighbour and trust is forgotten as fast as moral heroics. The past is revealed in flashback for each of the three main protagonists as small vignettes, each enhancing the harsh climate and necessity driven relationships of a community since torn apart by occupation. Burov blows up a truck. Sushenya is released as a traitor. Votik narrowly escapes capture. The episodes are, aside from Sushenya's tale, disconnected from the main storyline, and possess a matter-of-factness which further highlight the unstoppable run of moments within time and fate.

The high contrast of Mutu's images burn them with an immediacy of hardship, but the same visual importance is given to all. Whether it be the pillaging of a dead man for his boots and wallet, or the walk of a man who knows that he is regarded as a collaborator,we have the same painfully extended takes and over-exposed colours, equalising the relevance of all that we see. Again, things are not only bleak in this work but also futile. What will be remembered? What will exist just for the Now? The immediacy of the cinematography becomes vital. Sushenya recounts his backstory to Burov, who is then revealed to have died during the telling. The truth will never be recorded. We are witnessing times of the forgotten, and the final act by Sushenya is inevitable.

'V tumane/In the Fog' does not pose specific questions on these ideas of man's place within circumstance, but invites them through the beautiful evocation of hopelessness, and we are left wondering like Votik who asks, "does war really change men?", how real choice is, and is the happenstance that continually conspires against the men of the movie a product of their own creation, or the tragic outcome of some facet of destiny more unknown?

Next Sunday we have lessons of idealism from Turkey with 'Selam'.

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19th Keswick Film Festival

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