Film Review: 'In the Fog'

★★★★☆
An incredibly atmospheric Second World War three-hander exploring the notion that the fight against oppression may not necessarily equate to the fight for freedom, Belarusian director Sergei Loznitsa's In the Fog (V tumane, 2012) won rave reviews upon its Cannes debut in competition last year - and rightly so. Only his second narrative feature (following 2010's My Joy), Loznitsa once again proves himself to be an adept storyteller, weaving together three interconnected narratives - adapted from a short story by Vasil Bykaŭ - into a complex, weighty parable that feels like it could only ever have been told on the big screen.

Set in Nazi-occupied Belarus, In the Fog begins with the brutal off-camera hanging of three partisan rebels in a village square. Seemingly accountable for this heinous crime is local railroad worker Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy), a companion of the executed men released by the Reich hours before he himself was due to swing. Taken from his home in the dead of night by rebels Burov (Vladislav Abashin) and Voitik (Sergei Kolesov), the perceived Nazi collaborator is frog-marched into a nearby pine forest to await his end. However, when a German patrol interrupts this unhappy reunion, Burov is wounded, transforming Sushenya from prisoner into guardian angel.

A commercial flop at the Russian box office, where it was dismissed as being too dour and languid, In the Fog certainly demands your full attention throughout its two-hour runtime. Yet, for those willing to put in the legwork, the rewards are bountiful. It's difficult to recall an arthouse effort this year that looks and sounds as good, with regular Cristi Puiu/Cristian Mungiu DoP Oleg Mutu overlaying an otherworldly quality upon the treacherous, fog-enshrouded woodlands, whilst a menagerie of bird species call out ominously overhead. Several flashback sequences depict the men's past travails, shot largely over-the-shoulder to draw us into both our characters and our environs - with one eye always on the look-out for danger.

Of the lead triumvirate, it's perhaps the simmering Abashin who just comes out on-top, though Loznitsa appears intent on giving each of his central characters the backstory they so duly deserve. Assumptions and preconceptions made of each man begin to gradually crumble as we see the key life events that have shook them from apathetic, subordinate slumber, only to find themselves hunted like animals by both Nazi overlords and Belarusian lapdogs. As Sushenya, Burov and Voitik look to regain their own sense of morality whilst entrenched in a war-ravaged swamp of amorality, the line between friend and foe shifts with supreme unpredictability.

One of the most accomplished and subtly devastating world cinema titles released in UK cinemas this year (to date), Loznitsa's In the Fog sheds what light it can on the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe, bringing together three deeply personal tales of hardship and loss into a compelling narrative of deceptively grand proportions. Now two-for-two, the ever more impressive Loznitsa may soon find himself in the swelling ranks of Europe's filmmaking elite; on this evidence, at least, his seat at the top table will have been more than earned through blood, mud and defiant tears.

Daniel Green

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