Reviews

Weighs in with a slew of international awards and critical raves, including a 1988 Venice Film Festival Silver Lion and the 1989 European Felix for Best Picture. The film's director, Theo Angelopoulos, was also honored with a retrospective showing of his work at the Museum of Modern Art. This film tells the simple story of two children, Voula (Tania Palaiologou) and Alexander (Michalis Zeke), who are on the run in northern Greece, trying to make it to Germany to find their father (who may or may not be there). This odyssey is by turns heartwarming and harrowing.

En route, the children encounter an indifferent uncle, a traveling troupe of actors, a truck driver who rapes Voula, and, most important, the kindly Orestes (Stratos Tzortzoglou, handsome and natural in his role), a young man on a motorcycle who is about to go into military service, and who takes a generous interest in the pair. By the skin of their teeth and a few minor miracles, the kids finally make it to Germany, their "landscape in the mist." Though visually stunning, the film somehow manages never to rely on the travel-poster images of Greece or the famed Grecian light that featured so prominently in the recent HIGH SEASON and SHIRLEY VALENTINE. Instead, LANDSCAPE IN THE MIST's action occurs on a succession of uniformly overcast days and in drab locales--bleak roadside cafes and truck stops, desolate villages, uninviting beaches. Greece has surely never more resembled New Jersey than in this film by one of its foremost directors. Yet, Giorgos Arvanitis' cinematography imbues these unprepossessing setups with a somber beauty that is the film's most compelling aspect.

Angelopoulos likes to keep things in longshot, evoking a sense of alienation and emphasizing the obliqueness of the story. He is also fond of overhead angles suggestive of a godlike point of view. These stylistic decisions work most powerfully in the rape scene, which is handled with an almost unbearable Brechtian objectivity. Unfortunately, Angelopoulos' other set pieces are less successful, including a sub-Fellini tableaux of people on a street, frozen like statues in wonder at a sudden snowfall; the agonizing death of a horse; yellow-clad railroad workers pumping a handcar in and out of scenes like some mute Greek chorus; and a violinist's abrupt, melancholy entrance into a restaurant. (The film is at its most absurd when an immense, sculpted hand bobs up from the sea and is hoisted aloft by a helicopter right out of LA DOLCE VITA.) Angelopoulos hangs onto his scenes for what seems like forever, as if the extra beats alone are sufficient to make the images indelible. The effect is at first provocative, then affected and annoying (to suggest ennui in a disco, Angelopoulos employs a funereally tracking camera that is so relentlessly subjective it's punishing.) In keeping with this style, the film's characters are impressively taciturn, but when they do speak, their words can be disconcertingly high-flown, as when one speaks the first line of Rilke's Duino Elegies (translated by the subtitles as "If

I were to shout, who would hear me out of the armies of angels"). Ponderous and self-conscious, LANDSCAPE IN THE MIST would have benefitted from having an indulgent half-hour or so of footage excised. Although they are mere pawns in Angelopoulos' directorial game, the actors serve the filmmaker well. Palaiologou, with her preternaturally adult face, conveys a steely survivor's determination that almost convinces you of the improbable attainment of her quest. Tiny Zeke has an amusing, naturally grave demeanor; his actions could be those of a courtly, elderly statesman. Unfortunately, Angelopoulos' conceptual grip is so vise-like that these two never seem to break out into anything resembling the spontaneous behavior of kids. (When the eerie violinist makes his entrance, for example, Alexander immediately takes a seat to listen respectfully.) Instead, they are used to convey the director's banal notion of children as beings of mysterious, unfathomable beauty.


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