A Way of the Cross In the Fog
by Domenico La Porta
25/05/2012 - Originally a documentary filmmaker, Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa surprised Cannes in 2010 with his complex and mysterious My Joy [trailer]. This year, he is back in the competition at the Cannes Film Festival with a tragedy set during the Second World War, based on a novel by Belorussian author Vassily Bykov.
The film sets an unstoppable tragedy in motion, eventually leading two walls, two dead ends, to close in on him. The film's characters are cold, gazes are empty, and feelings are eroded by general apathetic fatalism. Yet, each role is developed in a series of brief flashbacks that tell us more about the characters. Whether they are standing still waiting for someone or advancing in one of the two directions, the result is the same, but they do each have the choice between maintaining their dignity or abandoning it on the eve of their own death. Each actor plays his partition in the same tones, but Oleg Mutu (also director of photography for Beyond the Hills [trailer, film focus] by Cristian Mungiu)'s sumptuous cinematography brings depth to this series of 72 artistic representations - the very limited number of shots that make up the film's two hours - in a veritable Way of the Cross whose dramatic ending seems inevitable. Instead of two planks of wood nailed together to be instrumental to his own death, the character carries one of his executioners on his back until the other turns out to be the Judas that he had come to liquidate. He then has to carry him too.
Loznitsa's hero is a survivor who maintains his moral bearings whatever the ingratitude. He refuses to become an animal despite the barbaric context. Here is a real resistant, because his fight is within himself, and he "cannot" act against what makes him a man. For him, better death than betraying his lifeline. And when everything drowns in the mist, when he is completely lost in the middle of nowhere and he physically can't carry his cross anymore because the line between treason and heroism has disappeared, his dignity dictates that he take one last step before the film ends with an original fade to white. Contrasting with the final fades to black for previous acts, this ending thus takes on its full meaning.
(Translated from French)