Set in 1942, the nazis have occupied Belarus and have captured a small group of railroad workers believing that they are part of the Partisan movement. All of the workers are executed, except for Sushenya. He is released and soon everyone believes he betrayed his own people in order to save his own life. Two men eventually come to Sushenya's home with plans on executing him but soon they find themselves depending on one another after a nazi ambush.
Even though war films are a big part of the American culture -- almost as big as westerns -- I've never been particularly fond of them. The problem I have with them, besides their lax attitude when it comes to the facts, is that they are, more often than not, simple representations of Good vs. Evil. A pat on the back in the form of entertainment where we sit around say, "Man, aren't we awesome for going and kicking the shit out of those bad guys over there? You're damn right we are!" Yes, there are exceptions, but the vast majority of war films are nothing more than glorified action movies. Russians seemed to have always had a much different take on the genre and focused more on the personal conflicts of war as opposed to being merely about the good guys defeating the bad guys. Sometimes considered too depressing, Sergei Loznitsa's "In the Fog" is another one of those personal films that looks at the affects of war that manages to turn the oppressed on one another.
Set in 1942 in a nazi occupied Belarus; Sushenya has recently been released by the nazis after he and his fellow railroad workers were arrested under the suspicion of being part of the resistance movement of the Partisans. And while Sushenya was released, his friends were hanged. Now the village hates and distrusts Sushenya, believing he betrayed his own people. So much so a former childhood friend -- along with members of the actual resistance -- come to Sushenya's home with plans on executing him. After spring the trap that the nazis had set place for such a moment, now Sushenya finds himself trying to save his friend and would-be executioner by carrying him through the countryside to the nearest village.
"In the Fog" was laminated for being "dreary" but I've never viewed Russian cinema as being particularly upbeat, especially when it comes to dramas depicting the effects of war. So yes, "In the Fog" is perhaps dreary, but it is a deep and personal film that focuses on the overlooked casualties of war. When that is what the movie is about, how could it be anything else? And that's what maintained my interest; that personal story and the fact that it was about more than allied forces fighting to save the world from nazis. Hollywood came close to depicting the personal tragedies of war with the movie "Saving Private Ryan" or the television series "Band of Brothers". Yet they still never do much more than show American troops fighting German forces (we'll just ignore the fact that other countries had soldiers fighting as well and had their own personal stakes in the war).
That's the power of "In the Fog"; it's not about the soldiers but about those who were affected the most by it. The people who had their counties, their towns, decimated. And it invokes the idea that in war, even the smallest of acts can have dire consequences. By letting one prisoner go while executing the others, it took all of that fear, paranoia and anger that existed in Belarus and caused the people to turn on themselves. It becomes quite the emotional experience as we watch the Sushenya character deal with the conflict from living in a war-torn country and having his own people see him as a traitor.
Yet, even though Sushenya is innocent he is still willing to accept his doomed fate when his childhood friend, Burov, and other Partisans, show up to execute him. The film makes a gradual change around this point, while still remaining personal, now looks to examine not only fate but the morality of the individual when faced with such an ordeal. And even though he was wounded by the nazis and still believes Sushenya is a traitor, Burov is now carried by Sushenya through the backwoods in an attempt to save his life. Even though it will most likely mean Sushenya's inevitable death when or if they can arrive to a nearby village.
Sure, I can't say that I had a good time watching "In the Fog" but it's hard not to appreciate how personal the story is and the examination of the individual during a global war. It is a bleak film but a fascinating movie to watch as it explores the concept of morality in the face of conflict and tragedy. There are no good guys. There are no bad guys. Merely people and reality. "In the Fog" is exactly the type of movie that should be made when it comes to war dramas.