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Gripping and gruelling examination of the soul
on 10 August 2013
Typically, even recent British and American films about WW2 look upon Europe as a raging battlefield and focus upon military engagements. This bleakly convincing Eastern European production portrays an entirely different aspect of the Great Patriotic War, by contrasting three characters in occupied Belorussia. The trio -- a collaborator who seems to have betrayed his workmates to the Nazis, his boyhood friend who has become a partisan, and a 'freedom fighter' -- cross paths in the forest. And their interactions demonstrate that the situation we're presented with may be a long way from the truth... always the first casualty of war...
In The Fog is filmed in washed-out greys and browns in a languid fashion, often opening each scene with a static landscape shot of frozen countryside or tangled, bare trees through which the characters stumble and scramble. The tension comes not from frantic action but from hesitant dialogue, frequently delivered in tones of despair. The condemned man knows it is futile to speak in his defence but he tells his tale in any case. The recent history of his two companions is likewise revealed in stark, unflattering flashbacks.
The result is a sobering portrait of life under occupation, and of how quickly morality crumbles under pressure. An act of sabotage is plotted and carried out, not to strike a blow for freedom against the Nazis, but to undermine a local supervisor even though this will result in many innocent deaths. Comrades are betrayed in an eyeblink to save a skin for a single day. Wives doubt their husbands. And young men join the resistance for the most superficial of motives.
In The Fog peels back layers of motivation to reveal the fragility of the human condition. It trudges painfully through the complex relationships which hostile occupation tends to highlight. It might be a film about WW2 but its themes and observations will be true about many conflict zones of today.
Not a film to enjoy, as such, but one to admire. The moments of starkly beautiful photography contrast sharply with the desolation of the human situation they encapsulate.