In the Fog (M) 3 stars
Vladimir Svirskiy, Vlad Abashin, Sergei Kolesov
DIRECTOR SERGEI LOZNITSA
REVIEW LUCY GIBSON
You will like this if you liked Come and See, Stalingrad, Enemy at the Gates, Katyn, Lore.
Sergei Loznitsa's In the Fog won acclaim at Cannes last year, taking out the international critics' prize for its portrayal of a man wrongly accused of collaborating with the nazis in the German-occupied Soviet Union.
For the average cinema-goer, however, Loznitsa's adaptation of Belarusian author Vasil Bykov's stark World War II tale is not an easy film to sit through.
There are no bloody or spectacular war scenes - much of what little action there is in fact happens off camera - and it's as slow-burning as it is bleak.
Yet, there's something quite captivating about Loznitsa's second full-length feature film, which resonates long after the credits have rolled.
Set on the eastern frontiers in 1942, the film centres on local rail worker Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy) who finds himself wrongly arrested along with a group of saboteurs responsible for derailing a nazi train.
The others are hanged for their crime (Loznitsa chooses not to show this on screen, instead we learn of their fate by the sickening sound of the hangman's noose tightening).
But in what turns out to be a cruel game by a nazi officer, Sushenya is set free and returns home to his family amid swirling rumours of treason.
His becomes a fraught existence - even his wife is suspicious - and things come to a head when he is tracked down by two partisans Burov (Vlad Abashin) and Voitik (Sergei Kolesov) and led into the forest carrying a shovel with which he is expected to dig his own grave.
Sushenya resigns himself to the fact he is about to be shot but a twist of fate ensures his survival and he's left in the forest with the two men to make a choice that will test his morals.
What's sophisticated and simultaneously challenging about In the Fog are the long, drawn-out scenes, most of which are filmed in just one shot.
In the production notes for the film, Loznitsa said his aim was to introduce cuts only in places where there was a development in the plot.
As such, there are only 72 in the film, subsequently demanding from the audience a great deal of patience to sit through lengthy scenes and long lingering camera work.
So too the cinematography from acclaimed Oleg Mutu, who worked with Loznitsa on his 2010 film My Joy, captures the bleak landscape with such effect that as the men trudge through the forest - point-of-view shots allow us to walk in their shoes - it's tempting to pull your own collar up to keep warm.
There's little reprieve from the gloom of In the Fog. However, it is refreshing to watch a war movie in which character development takes precedence over combat scenes and the focus is not on the frontline, but the moral dilemmas faced by those caught up in events of that period.In the Fog is screening at the Luna Leederville.
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