This is the last of Glenn Heath’s dispatches from the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, which concluded over the weekend.
In the Fog’s title is indeed overtly symbolic and quite literal: war blurs the line between reality and perception, good and evil, creating a desperate environment of ambiguity, unanswered questions, and crushing heartache. But director Sergei Loznitsa’s harrowing examination of three Belarusian soldiers trying to survive Nazi occupation is not simply an example of blunt proselytizing. Entirely constructed from brilliant long tracking shots that stalk worn-out characters slowly traversing a landscape dominated by silence and sudden violence, In the Fog explores the organic overlap between ideology and physical action within a volatile space. The background of each fluid frame momentarily hints at other experiences grappling with same dynamic, people caught in the middle of life-changing moments.
The opening act of In the Fog feels like a cross between Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur and Elem Klimov’s Come and See. After a wrenching opening shot watches a group of POWs walking through a Nazi base to their deaths, Loznitsa cuts to Burov (Vlad Abashin) and Voitki (Sergei Kolesov), two partisans tasked with executing Sushenya (Vladimir Svirski), a suspected informant for the Germans. As the trio make their way deeper into the dense forest, the narrative splinters back and forth between perspectives and time periods. The flashbacks provide a necessary context to each man’s origin in relation to the war, expanding their stories outside the realm of the film’s initial Western-style storyline. Loznitsa makes it seem In the Fog could go on forever, jettisoning in different directions depending on whoever crosses the frame.
As a nightmare of revolving war-film possibilities, In the Fog explores how quickly a character’s trajectory can evolve within such a terrifyingly fluid space. Maybe that’s why its deeply cynical ending doesn’t feel entirely hopeless. Even though the rigors of war are relentless and uncompromising, there are small moments of peace hidden within these tragic compositions, reminders of togetherness that, no matter how fleeting, have to count for something.
Darezhan Omirbaev’s Student, a modern adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, takes a more minimalist approach in constructing a world being ripped apart by injustice. The film’s titular nebbish witnesses so many daily acts of oppression that his deformed perception of reality drives him to an unspeakable act of violence. Flashes of dream-logic provide blips in the young man’s otherwise droll reality, but Omirbaev makes each frame an interesting examination of social negligence. Whether it’s the disavowal of verbal communication or struggle for physical domination, the fight or flight mentality in Student reveals an alarming critique of modern-day class division.
Finally, as I was gleefully indulging in Lee Daniels’s “you have to see it to believe it” melodrama The Paperboy, the Cannes jury headed by Nanni Moretti announced its 2012 award winners. While I guessed Alain Resnais would be the sympathetic favorite for You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, Moretti and company went with a safe but excellent choice in Haneke’s Amour for the Palme d’Or. It was really the only film most critics universally agreed on. Surprisingly, Matteo Garrone’s Reality took the Grand Prix and Ken Loach’s The Angel’s Share was awarded the Jury Prize. Garrone’s film was one of the better entries in competition and while I can’t vouch for the Loach (it was the only competition film I missed), I’d bet it doesn’t hold a candle to In the Fog or Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love. Apparently jury member Ewan McGregor was a huge fan.
Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas was awarded best director for his impenetrable Post Tenebras Lux, a disappointing choice considering Leos Carax’s Holy Motors and Kiarostami’s masterpiece were completely shut out. The great Mads Mikkelsen took home the Best Acting Prize for his turn as a wrongly accused man in Thomas Vinterberg’s downright awful Lifetime movie, The Hunt, while the two leads in Beyond the Hills (Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur) shared the Best Actress Prize. Cristian Mungui’s film was also awarded Best Screenplay, which I would have given to Andrew Dominik’s uber-talky gangster saga, Killing Them Softly.