Landscape in the Mist (1988) dir. Theo Angelopoulos
Starring: Michalis Zeke, Tania Palaiologou, Stratos Tzortzoglou
Greek master Theo Angelopoulos, whose career which began in the 1970’s and produced several ‘masterpieces’ according to international critics, never really made it big in North America like other European directors did (ie. Almodovar, Kieslowski). In 1998, he won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for “Eternity and a Day” and even that couldn’t make him break into North America. And so, Mr. Angelopoulos has remained a European master.
Many of his films are available on DVD through those wonderful niche distributors like the now-defunct New Yorker Films, or Artificial Eye. I’ve only seen a couple of his films, but by reputation alone, they've have been described as slow moving, meditative art films, with obtuse themes which have difficulty translated to mainstream audience.
“Landscape in the Mist” is no exception, but with patience, this film provides an accessible, emotional and artfully profound entry point to this man’s career.
The film’s opening narration is from a young 12 year old girl Voula (Tania Palaiologou) who reads a bedtime story of creation to her five-year old brother Alexander (Michalis Zeke), ‘in the beginning there was dark, and then there was light’. Heavy stuff to begin a film for sure, but it feeds directly into the theme of discovery of one’s origins. We then see Voula and Alexandre embark on a journey from Greece to Germany to find their unknown father, and escape the detached life with their mother.
They soon get kicked off the train for not having a ticket, forcing them to move on foot. They meet up with Orestis (Stratos Tzortzoglou) a handsome young stagehand of a travelling theatre group. He has a bus and space, and so the pair quickly become a threesome. The trio split up and reconnect several times over the journey, but the more they travel together the more they develop a deep emotional connection with each other – a bond which makes the journey that much more difficult to complete.
From the lengthy opening shot, which tracks across a busy train station framing the two children waiting on the platform, it’s clear Angelopoulos has a unique cinematic eye and a statement to be made with his technical craft. His frames are immaculately composed, usually in a wideshot, rarely edited beyond a single shot and take for each scene. Just the visual look of the two children, one short, one not-so-short beside each other, engulfed by the stark environments they pass through is evocative. Angelopoulos replaces the power of the close-up with the power of the juxtaposition of the innocence of the children with the stark industry wasteland looking down at them.
The slow deliberate pace, timed with Angelopoulos languid camera movements reward the viewer with a number of devastatingly emotional scenes. The final departure of Orestis from Alexandre and Voula is a real weeper, and Voula’s painful experience in the back of a truck is a frightening off-camera moment.
Theo Angelopolous is not for all tastes – I didn’t even think I would have a taste for him – which is what makes “Landscape in the Mist” a profound discovery I will treasure for a while.
Sorry, I couldn't find a decent English trailer: