Thursday, September 12, 2013

"In the Fog": slow drama from Belarus explores personal moral dilemmas in an obscure German occupation during WWII

In the Fog” (“V tumane”), directed by Sergei Loznitsa, is a drama from Belarus set in 1942 in German occupied near the western border of the Soviet Union.  It is adapted from a short story of Vasil Bykaw. The history may be obscure today, but the point of the drama is to explore existential questions about morality, loyalty, and sacrifice.
The film is long (127 minutes) and slow. The wide screen cinematography captures the drabness of the forest environment, mostly looking like the nineteenth century, sometimes approaching black-and-white.
The basic setup concerns the Nazi German occupation, the Belarussian administrators who go along with them (like the Jewish elders at Theresienstadt in “War and Remembrance”), the rebels (called the Partisans) and the ordinary rural people.  The protagonist, Sushenya (Validimir Svirskiy), whose jobs was to walk railroad tracks with handcars (I don’t recall seeing a “model railroad” handcar in the movies before) has been arrested and wrongfully accused of blowing up a train (that sort of thing would happen in “The Peacemaker” in 1997) and then released.  That makes him a pariah among the Partisans, who try to execute him as a traitor.  But the Germans intercept the plot, leaving Sushenya the moral problem of saving his intended executioner’s life and carrying him through the woods.  I’m not sure that the eventual denouement is that convincing.
I had thought about these sorts of dilemmas as a kid.  In tenth grade English (in 1959), when we wrote a short story as a theme project, I created a situation where a lifeguard has to rescue a drowning person when a “duck and cover” siren is blaring. The young male teacher (and previous football player but very good “professor”) didn’t understand my conclusion (the bomb goes off) but gave me a “B” on it. This teacher welcomed moral controversy; most of his final exam essay questions on literature were about it;  and one student wrote a theme trying to prove the existence of God. 
The official site is here. The DVD will be released by Strand Releasing September 17.  The other distributor is The Match Factory. 
I reviewed the film from a Strand screener.
The title of the film, as translated, recalled Sony’s documentary “The Fog of War”.  The very last scene of the film does justify the title.  It’s rather like a quiet epilogue to a Bax symphony.

Another film for comparison would be the 1999 Finnish film “Ambush” (“Tie Rukajarven”, directed by Olli Sarelaa, set in the Russo-Finnish war of 1942.  I saw that at a film festival at the University of Minnesota in their Bell Auditorium that year.  

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