Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In the Fog

Sergei Loznitsa's "In the Fog" takes place early in WWII, in the Belorussian forest at the western edge of the Soviet Union. The Germans have taken over the area and arrested four men for "sabotage." Three of the four were hanged, and the locals assume that the fourth, Sushenya, cut a deal with the occupiers to save his hide. (In truth, the local German commandant offers him such a collaboration agreement, and when he refuses to sign, promises Sushenya an even worse fate, a promise that in its own way comes true in the end.) Two rebel soldiers - one a childhood friend of Sushenya's - come for him in the night, making him walk to a copse where he is to dig his own grave before being shot. But just before that bullet is fired, the Germans ambush the three, forcing them to hide out together and forging an unlikely alliance built on mutual mistrust.

There's plenty of intellectual meat to chew on "In the Fog," which effectively conveys Sushenya's attempt to maintain his moral compass, the existential dread of its characters, and their typical hardscrabble earthiness. (When they come for Sushenya, his wife suggests he take with him an onion and some lard. Fun, fun, fun.) There's also a painterly beauty to the landscapes; you really feel the infiniteness of the forest and its indifference to man. But, at over two hours, I cannot deny that a certain hemorrhoidal antsiness set in. Too often, it plays like a film of "Waiting for Godot" (which I loathe), and the ending seems like an easy cop-out.

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