Set during the German occupation of the USSR during World War II, “In The Fog” looks at three guys who are a part of the resistance as they try to make sense of a world they no longer know, yet only a year and a half ago, they called home.
After being branded a traitor by the resistance for being the only man out of four not hung by the Germans for a mission that went wrong, Sushenya is living a life of misery. Because of the assumption that he had to have collaborated with the enemy and sold his brothers out, no one talks to him or his family anymore. In fact they will not even look him in the eye. Even the person who knows him better than anyone else in the world, his wife, has doubts about him. It is so bad that he believes it would’ve been better to have been hung with his friends than live the life he is currently living. One night there is a knock at the door and when he answers it, his childhood friend Kolya is standing there. Normally he would be excited to see him, but Kolya is also a member of the resistance so Sushenya immediately knows that Kolya has been sent to assassinate him. He is taken into the woods behind his house by Kolya and Voitik and told to dig his own grave. Just as he is about to be killed, the German army suddenly appear and a gunfight ensues which results in Kolya being seriously shot. Through all the confusion, the resistance members are able to escape the Germans but Kolya is badly wounded. Sushenya puts Kolya on his back determined to get him some medical attention and clear his name of being a traitor. While the three men slowly take their journey, we are witness to flashbacks of their times in the resistance, including the truth about the mission that cost Sushenya the trust and respect of his peers.
When I was watching “In The Fog” I was the most tired I had been during the festival so far. Even though I never fall asleep, it felt like my mind did, as my concentration was not as good as usual and I found myself zoning in and out of the film. I only mention this because my opinion of the film may be tainted from my exhaustion. That said, “In The Fog” was not a bad film at all although it was typically Russian in that the pacing of the film was very slow. Normally I think I would’ve responded to the pace of the film better than I did although when the film finished I was surprised that the two hours had passed so quickly.
The theme of war and doing what it takes to survive during war was explained very well as the world is defined here in a lot of grays, nothing is black or white. Something that I thought was very interesting was the fact that Sushenya explains that before the war he was a well respected member of the community, trusted by everyone, so why after a year and a half of occupation did the people find it easier to trust the Germans rather than a man they have known and trusted for thirty seven years. Fear is obviously a powerful motivator. The other injustice of war explained here is the fact that just to survive, people did things that they normally wouldn’t do, but then judged harshly on these things later.
In regards to the technical side of the film, I thought the cinematography was outstanding. The composition of frame was particularly strong and the use of the widescreen was very well done. Compared to “Mine Games”, this is how you shoot in the dark. It actually felt dark with minimal lighting, but just enough to see what was going on. The cinematographer on “In The Fog” was Oleg Mutu who also shot “Beyond The Hills” (which also screened at MIFF this year), and he has captured all of the elements beautifully with highlights being a scene in the snow, and the finale with a deep intimidating fog rolling in.
Due to the bleak nature of the time, there is little happiness to be found within any of the characters except for a brief moment at the start when Sushenya is playing with his son. The performances of the three main guys are all good but it was the performance of Vladimir Svirskiy as Sushenya that really stood out as the realization of hopelessness and the weight on his shoulders (both figuratively and literally) grows continually as the film goes on. You can just see it in his eyes that it is all getting to much and it is wearing him down.
Overall, even through my sleep deprived state I was able to recognize a lot of good in “In The Fog”. It is a bleak story with an equally bleak ending so it is a less a film you enjoy rather you experience it. While the pace is very slow, the story is worthwhile and the cinematography gorgeous. Some might have a feeling of “what was the point?” after the film but I think it worked just fine. It was also nice to see Nadezdha Markina (star of Andrei Zvyagintsev’s “Elena” here in a small role too.