FilmJuice have my review of Sergei Loznitsa’s historical war movie In The Fog.
Based on a short story by the renowned Belarusian author Vasil’ Bykaw, In The Fog is a slow, moody and atmospheric exploration of what it was like to be alive during the Nazi invasion of Belarus. The film revolves around two childhood friends who are thrown into conflict when one is sent to execute the other on suspicion of aiding the Nazis and betraying his countrymen. While the film’s glacial pacing may initially help to introduce a note of tension, this tension soon dissipates once the film moves onto a more conventional character study… at which point it collapses into mind-boggling boredom:
While glacial pacing is quite common in European art cinema, the purpose of the long drawn-out pauses and shots of scenery is usually to draw attention to ambiguities and provide the audience with breathing space in which to reflect upon what it is that they have just seen on the screen. The problem with In The Fog is that while it may be littered with awkward pauses and shots of Belarusian forests, the film contains neither the ambiguity nor the complexity that might require these extended periods of contemplation. For example, the film’s opening sequences do a great job of establishing that the railway worker is a calm and noble man but rather than using that character’s flashback to explain or complicate his saintly demeanour, the film simply contents itself with re-iterating the same basic character beats: A man who is calm and noble in a forest is evidently just as calm and just as noble in a German prison cell. Had Loznitsa dared to introduce a note of ambiguity into either his plot or his characters then all of those (admittedly decorative) shots of Belarusian forests would have been welcome, instead they merely feel like padding. Loznitsa’s literal-mindedness is even more evident in the final act when he attempts to step back from his character studies and broaden the film’s themes out into a wider discussion of wartime morality. However, rather than introducing some fresh plot element that might have encouraged the audience to reflect upon the characters in a wider context, Loznitsa simply has his characters sit around in a forest wondering out loud about what their experiences say about the morality of war.
Readers with long memories will doubtless take this review as yet another chapter in the on-going epic known as Jonathan Complains Bitterly About the State of Arthouse film. Previous chapters can be found here, here and here. My problem with In The Fog is the same as my problem with many contemporary art house films: It is a beautiful dolt. It is easy to see that a goodly proportion of European art house directors working today have been deeply influenced by the great art house classics of the 1960s. However, rather than emulating L’Avventura‘s willingness to challenge norms and break rules, they emulate the style: The non-linear narrative, the ambiguous plot points, the extended pauses and thus what was once revolutionary is now little more than pastiche.