In the Fog
Two men take a fellow partisan, accused of collaboration and sentenced to die, through the woods in German-occupied Belorussia. It's brutal, but such were the times, writes Mike McCahill.
im Jahr 2013
The name Sergei Loznitsa might well be a new one to British cinephiles. His 2010 debut My Joy, about a truck driver getting lost amid the Stygian murk of modern Russia, was much admired on the festival circuit, even if it occasionally seemed to this viewer more than faintly impenetrable: a migraine-movie that, in indicting oppression, came to feel somewhat oppressive in itself.
His follow-up In the Fog retains its predecessor’s marked seriousness of purpose, but gains in clarity and force. It takes place in 1942 in German-occupied Belorussia, territory not so far removed from Elem Klimov’s 1985 landmark Come and See, although Loznitsa’s masterful opening panorama identifies in one simple village scene everything that will subsequently fall into his own film’s field of vision: weary soldiers and haunted-looking partisans, cowed or gawping villagers, mud.
After an officer mumbles a half-hearted speech about supporting 'the reconstruction of the Belorussian state', the camera arrives at its grimly ironic destination: a cartful of indeterminate animal ribcages, alighted upon just as the speaker (now off-screen) gives the instruction to string up the latest intake of prisoners. Death appears inescapable here: like fog, it literally hangs in the air. On the outskirts of town, meanwhile, two men ride out of the nearby woods towards a spartan cabin. They’ve come for a third, Sushenya, a fellow partisan accused of collaboration, and therefore sentenced to die.
What makes this a notable progression from My Joy is its heightened feeling of focus, as though the camera were constantly tracking in on the cloud of flies buzzing around those ribcages. The story – drawn from a Vasili Bykov novel – will be opened out with flashbacks explaining how everybody got here, but from here on out we're mostly watching three mutually suspicious men scuttling through the woods.
My Joy had an element of ordeal cinema about it, confronting us with everything a young director might find rotten in his world, but it’s as nothing compared to the ordeal these characters face. The ground is deemed too hard in one spot for Sushenya to begin the arduous work of digging his own grave, so they scrabble onwards, only for the execution to be further delayed by a discussion about how Sushenya’s wife should be informed of his passing.
At two hours plus, the pacing is deliberate, but then these characters are weighed down by feelings of guilt and responsibility. Loznitsa uses that time to shape their existential peregrinations into his own form of propulsion, even suspense: every minute that elapses as the three men pause, slow down or stop increases the likelihood they will be discovered by the military police.
Even after Klimov’s eye- and eardrum-popping widescreen operatics, In the Fog finds new ways of seeing this specific conflict, partly by coming at it from a grassroots, quasi-insectoid perspective. Crisp autumnal photography from Oleg Mutu (4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days) frames beard-fuzzy, blood-streaked features within the reliably vast beauty of the landscape: it’s a film of grimy domestic betrayals and reversals, hibernating men emerging from gorse, arbitrary kills on damp, desperation-soaked ground.
Loznitsa’s background lies in documentary, and In the Fog becomes almost Attenborough-like in its precision: as we watch the three men clambering through leaves and twigs, making makeshift nests, circling back on themselves, we could just as easily be watching ants in a formicarium, milling and burrowing, mostly oblivious to the bigger picture – that there is no easy or immediate escape, and every chance they will be stamped upon or swallowed up. Brutal, yes; but, as this very impressive film concludes, such was the nature of the times.
Winner of the FIPRESCI award at Cannes 2012, Sergei Loznitsa's stark wartime drama In the Fog follows a suspected Nazi collaborator's experience on the western frontier of the USSR. Shot in sumptuous long takes and vibrant colour, the film questions the corruption of man's humanity in wartime.
In 1942, Belarus is in the hands of Nazis and the local militia. Under heavy German occupation, Sushenya's village is split between the partisans and the helpless. When an attack against the Germans leaves Sushenya headed for the gallows, he is fully aware of his intended fate, but when a Nazi officer decides to set him free it leaves his allegiance open to speculation. Rejected by his wife and pursued by his peers, he is soon left to fend for himself in a purgatorial void where the difference between friends and enemies is unclear.
Publisher: New Wave Films
Length: 128 mins
Format: DVD Colour
Released: 26th August 2013
Cat No: NW050
Short film: Letter (Loznitsa, 2012).
Mediatyp: DVD PAL
, Zone: 2