Film Festival Film #7: In the Fog

In the Fog is a Belorussian film set in WWII. The film starts with the hanging of three partisans by the occupying Nazi police. The scenes are slow, and leisurely — it nicely sets the expectation of pace for the rest of the film.

But it turns out that the three hanged me were originally arrested with a fourth guy: our protagonist, Sushenya. Because Sushenya was spared the gallows, everyone assumes that he must have ratted out his colleagues. Sushenya knows that that’s what everyone thinks, and it’s no surprise when two partisans, Burov and Voitik, show up at his house at night. They’re there to kill him for helping the Nazis.

Sushenya is fairly resigned to his fate; he sees the situation clearly. Even though Burov is an old friend, he doesn’t try to plead for his life. When they head off into the woods, Sushenya asks, “Should I bring a shovel?”

“Yes,” says Burov.

Shortly, Burov and Sushenya are reviewing final niceties (“Give my wife my coat; it’s a good coat.”) while Voitik is on the lookout. But Voitik is a bit of a screw-up, and falls asleep, and doesn’t notice the police arriving.

In a quick shoot-out, Burov is badly wounded. Voitik, who ran away during the shoot-out, eventually finds Sushenya carrying the wounded Burov through the woods. Voitik is a little surprised that Sushenya didn’t run away, but they trudge through the woods, trying to head somewhere to get some medical attention for Burov. And during the course of their trudging, we get flashbacks to scenes earlier in each of the three men’s lives.

For Burov, we see his growing resentment that the Nazi police have commandeered a truck that he built. This resentment finally culminates in his choice to blow up the truck, and disappear into the woods (and, ultimately, join up with the partisans).

For Sushenya, we see the backstory about his job as a railroad worker. Their boss’s tyranny has flourished under the new Nazi rule, and Sushenya’s colleagues angrily decide to take revenge by sabotaging the rail line. Sushenya tries to talk them out of this course of action — there’ll be reprisals, he says — but to no avail. Just as they’re returning to the station, an unexpected train arrives and makes its way toward the sabotaged tracks. You can see the conspirators sort of looking at each other as if to say, “uh, maybe we should just leave, now.” They’re arrested and beaten. Menacing Nazi Dude tells Sushenya that he’ll let Sushenya live if he agrees to work with them, but Sushenya refuses. Menacing Nazi Dude sets him free, anyway, knowing that the town will suspect him.

Voitik’s backstory reinforces his unreliability. He’s sent into town to pick up food and supplies for his group of partisan soldiers who live in the woods. He gets the food from a local partisan organizer, but is caught by a patrol on the way back to the woods. The patrol guards force him to take them to the house where he got the food, and in the shoot out, everyone in the house is killed, but Voitik makes his escape.

These backstories are ultimately addressing the question of who we become in times of war. Burov is angered and politicized by the Nazi occupation of the town. This leads him to become a partisan. Sushenya remains the exact same person of good character, and he doesn’t quite understand how everyone can’t see that the person he is could never have collaborated. Voitik sacrifices his partisan organizers to save himself. He’s able to shrug this off as, “well, it’s war. Things happen. You have to look out for number one.”

Overall, a nice little film, and an interesting character study. There was no Q&A afterward, sadly (TIFF is nearing its end, and the creators are starting to disappear).

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