Monday, June 10, 2013

Loznitsa’s In the Fog

Some people are born to curry favor with successive regimes, regardless of changing ideologies.  There are also those who are constitutionally incapable of ingratiating themselves with the powers that be.  Sushenya is definitely the latter sort, but through a cruel twist, he finds himself suspected of collaboration in Sergei Loznitsa’s WWII drama, In the Fog (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

When Burov knocks on his door late one night, Sushenya knows the partisan has come to execute him.  Burov would have done the deed right there and then, were it not for the presence of the condemned man’s son.  Instead, he and his squirrely comrade Voitek march Sushenya out into the Belorussian forest.  However, German patrols are out in force this particular night, drastically altering the course of Burov’s score-settling mission.

For the three main characters, backstory is truly destiny.  Through extended flashbacks, Loznitsa shows the audience the ironic events that inevitably led the trio into the fateful forest.  There is an inescapably absurdist character to In the Fog, as its characters doggedly tramp through the woods, evading the Germans as best they can, despite the awkward circumstances that brought them together.

Yet, In the Fog is also closely akin to Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows.  Loznitsa’s adaptation of Vasil Bykov’s novel hardly idolizes the Communist partisans.  Frankly, it suggests they are more interested in suspected turncoats like Sushenya than taking the war to Germans.  Neither Sushenya nor Burov are Party people, so to speak.  Voitek is not exactly a true believer either, but his craven nature is more compatible with his fellow comrades.  Indeed, during Sushenya’s flashback, one of his railroad co-workers observes how their former Communist tormentor had so quickly aligned himself with the new National Socialist occupiers.

Vladimir Svirskiy looks profoundly miserable as Sushenya.  It is a performance of striking physicality, perfectly suited to Loznitsa’s taciturn film.  As Voitek, Sergei Kolesov also taps into just about every unedifying aspect of human nature, without overplaying any of them.  Even with his dramatic origin story, Vladislav Abashin’s Burov remains something of a cipher, but Vlad Ivanov (the abortionist in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) casts a long shadow over the film as the deceitful German officer, Grossmeier.

Yes, once night breaks, there will be plenty of fog to represent to moral murkiness facing the film’s characters.  There will be no heroics in the wartime USSR, no matter who holds Sushenya’s village.  Loznitsa offers viewers little consolation and his purposeful pacing will be problematic for antsy viewers.  Yet, his long tracking shots are quite striking (especially the opening hanging sequence).  Impressively bracing, In the Fog is recommended rather highly for adult attention spans when it opens this Friday (6/14) in New York at the Village East.