The second feature film of the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa, who is largely known for his documentary works, not only reached great attention at Cannes Festival in 2012, but stirred some debates as to his approach to the subject of war and humanity.
In the events of WWII Belarus lost a quarter of its population and many villages still remain wastelands. There are still some gaps left over between what can’t be said and what hasn’t been understood or properly reflected on. Sergei Loznitsa, Belarus born, tries to bridge those gaps and makes us do exactly what we don’t want to do—be enclosed in a nightmarish existential reality where human nature is examined and stripped down to bare bones.
Similar to some of the most important historical films, which have often not been very pleasing or comfortable, Loznitsa’s In the Fog is hard to swallow. Based on the novel by Belarusian writer Vasil Bykov, the film takes place in German occupied Belarus during the year 1942. A wrongly accused man, Sushenya (Vladimir Svirski) accepts his doomed fate and readily takes on a journey with his would-be executioners Burov (Vlad Abashin) and Voityk (Sergei Kolesov). Walking forlornly through the woods, they are looking for a place to carry out the sentence when Burov is suddenly shot and Voityk flees for safety.
Fate, humanity, and free will are being questioned throughout the entire film in which Sergei Loznitsa seems to relate war as an external factor produced by internal conditions. In the beautiful visual choreography of Romanian cinematographer Oleg Mutu, the vastness of the forest with all its hidden dangers and thickening fog only reflect the uncertainty and helplessness of characters’ position. It is at this point that Sushenya chooses to stay with wounded Burov and carries him on his shoulders, making a vivid allusion to Christ carrying his cross.
Unlike most war films that would incorporate battle scenes and crowds of actors, Loznitsa manages to reveal a humanistic tragedy set to the background of war, using only three main characters. With occasional flashbacks to their past, the director penetrates into their human behavior in a Dostoevsky-like fashion. Sushenya, who fails to persuade anyone, including his wife of his innocence, is left with a single question; “how is a human being able to change so fast?” All the fever of hesitation, unease, and suspicion in the air make the choices of Loznitsa’s characters ever more poignant and dramatic.
By Masha Froliak
Masha also had a chance to conduct an interview with Sergei Loznitsa about the film:
Masha Froliak: War, or outer and inner destruction are common subjects for many of your works. Why?
Sergei Loznitsa: There is something personal in it and perhaps it doesn’t only concern me, but others as well. Something very significant was broken and it is sad. I want to get back to that point of rupture, to understand what happened or at least to re-live that experience.
MF: How important is a re-thinking of the past in your work?
SL: I wouldn’t say re-thinking, I would say understanding of the past. Then the question is–is it important to understand anything at all about ourselves? Everything that connects us to the past exists in our present. Time doesn’t move linearly towards the events in our lives. Certain problems freeze unresolved; and even though the situation itself belongs to the past it may still trouble us with its uncertainty in the present. In order to understand what happens in the present we need to look again at those events of the past where our current condition stays still, awaiting that resolving effort.
MF: Do you think that the whole tragedy of war can be portrayed with just three actors?
SL: The whole tragedy of war can’t be portrayed with any film. One can only portray a short personal evidence in the background of this larger catastrophe.
MF: Your documentaries are so visually beautiful that they seem staged and your feature film In the Fog seems almost too realistic. Where is the boundary between history and fantasy?
SL: Everything in cinema is a fantasy. And what is most interesting is that it is a fantasy of the viewer. You say it is too realistic however it is not clear what that means exactly. Any film is staged. I chose a location, a subject, and I place a camera. Everything the camera records is evidence of what happens in front of it. After which begins a fantasy and a variety of interpretations, which creators of the film think they are able to control.
MF: Please tell your thoughts about the last scene when the main character makes his final decision.
SL: I don’t have thoughts regarding the last scene. It is a story, a story that ends that way. Why does it end this way? What is the story about? That’s what a viewer should think about.
MF: Are you fully satisfied with any of your films?
SL: So far I have been lucky. I have always been satisfied with my works. Sometimes this feeling comes with time. As Volodya Golovnitskyi, a sound producer I work with said, “If you don’t like the film, watch it again.”
MF: Are you currently working on a new film and what is it going to be about?
SL: At the moment I am working on a short documentary and preparing for a feature film. It will be called “ Babyn Yar.“ It is a film about the tragic events that happened in the fall of Kiev in 1941.