Saturday, March 29, 2008

Film Review: Landscape in the Mist

"Landscape in the Mist" **** (out of ****)

"Landscape in the Mist" is one of filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos' masterpieces. How sad to consider than that the name Angelopoulos means so little to so many people. Unless you are a film critic or a cinephile, you've probably never heard of him or seen one of his films.

Angelopoulos will never be a mainstream director. He has gained great international fame, but, in the United States, his name draws a blank. He is the master of imagery as far as I am concerned.

"Landscape in the Mist" is a typical Angelopoulos' film. It has long, unbroken camera shots, long periods of silence, and to some, pretentious, philosophical dialogue.

The film revolves around two children, a brother and sister; Alexander (Michalis Zeke) and Voula (Tania Palaiologou). Their mother has told them that their father, whom the children have never seen, lives in Germany. Curious to learn more about their father, the two children run away from home and set out to find their father. Later on it is sadly revealed, their mother made up the story. In actuality she has no idea who the father is.

On this journey the children will experience many things. They will meet many people, mostly subsititue father figures, they will grow both emotionally and mentally. One of the men the children become close to is Orestis (Stratos Tzortzoglou). An actor who travels with an acting troupe and seems destine to join the army.

"Landscape in the Mist" is not a film to be watched. It is a film to be experienced. It is about moods and emotions. It is a series of beautifully constructed shots placed together. You many not see their connection on your first viewing but their collective impact is lasting. The question is, are you willing to sit down and watch an Angelopoulos film two or three times?

Watching "Landscape in the Mist" again, I was struck how fluid the story is. The film runs at 126 minutes. Relatively short for an Angelopoulos film. Some of his other works, including "Ulysses' Gaze" and "The Travelling Players" run three hours. Usually at the two hour mark, Angelopoulos is just getting warmed up.

Some of the film's most memorable moments include a snow storm, where everyone stands still as the children run in slow motion. It is as if time has stopped around the children. Another moment has the children hitchhiking. A truck driver picks them up and stops on the side of the road for a rest. The way Angelopoulos sets up the shot is by dividing the screen in half. The parked truck takes up the right side of the screen, while the on going traffic takes up the left. The truck driver grabs Voula and takes her to the back of the truck. At this point we know what is going on. But, because of the way the shot is framed we suspect someone will intervene and protect the girl. I won't say whether or not someone does.

There are also several scenes by the ocean, which is always an important location in an Angelopoulos film. In these scenes the acting troupe reflect on the past. Could Angelopoulos be using the ocean as a symbol for these characters drifting along? It is reminiscent to Antonioni's "L'Avventura", where he too used the ocean as a metaphor for drifting along through life.

One of the film's more interesting symbols comes when the children find a piece of film celluloid. The image on the film is of mist. They are told if they look hard enough they will find a tree in the distant background. But they do not see it. This comes full circle. At the end of the film the children are on a boat, the screen goes black, we hear gun shots. The scene ends. The next scene takes place in a storm of mist. An image makes its way through it is the children. But where are they. Could it be heaven? Could the mist be clouds floating by? In the distance we see a tree suddenly appear. We think of the earlier image with the celluloid film. Is Angelopoulos telling us if we search hard enough at a film image we will see what we want to see? Films are open for multiple interpretations?

"Landscape in the Mist" is a film about the past, dreams and remembrance. Rarely will you see a film which will sweep you under its charms. "Landscape in the Mist" is a film of breathtaking beauty and mystic charms. If you ever get the chance to see it, please do.