Review: A Vanishing Fog
- Augusto Sandino’s film mixes magical realism with psychological-drama elements, with an impending ecological disaster taking place in the background
Colombian director Augusto Sandino is back at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival after winning the Special Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Award there in 2016 with his debut feature, Gentle Breath. Taking part in the official selection of this year’s Estonian gathering, A Vanishing Fog is a highly enigmatic work that mixes elements of magical realism and psychological drama.
Sandino’s film does not follow a precise narrative. Instead, it aims to provide the viewer with a cinematic experience, and a very peculiar one at that, which may split the audience owing to its predominantly fragmentary, “foggy” – if you’ll forgive the pun – nature. In detail, we focus on a solitary shepherd simply called “F” (played by photographer Sebastian Pii, affected by Hallermann–Streiff syndrome), who acts as the guardian of a very remote, mountainous area in South America, the Sumapaz Páramo. From the very beginning, we realise that the ecosystem he lives in is in danger, as it is being violently destroyed by human intervention. Meanwhile, F needs to take care of his ailing father (Mario de Jesús Viana).
All in all, A Vanishing Fog’s potential relies heavily on the magnetic, powerful presence of its lead. The unusual actor’s assets – his body, voice and movements – become a blank canvas on which Sandino manages to sketch a unique, fictional character. Sandino and Pii’s reciprocal trust in embarking on this creative process is plain to see on the screen and allows both to explore – intimately and profoundly – some delicate aspects of life, such as solitude, instinct, fear and, most importantly, eros. Here, Sandino does an excellent job and trusts in Pii’s sensitivity and other qualities. In this sense, his directorial work can be compared to that of Matteo Garrone and Marcello Fonte in Dogman [+see also:
interview: Matteo Garrone
film profile], or that of Jo Sol and Íñigo Martínez in Armugan [+see also:
interview: Jo Sol
F’s sexual urges gradually take up more and more space – and gift us with some very visually interesting scenes, including one in which the protagonist mimics cunnilingus while licking the inner part of a strawberry.
Except for some not-entirely-convincing CGI effects (such as a white staircase leading up to the sky, which appears in one of F’s visions), reality and imagination blend together successfully, in particular thanks to Gio Park’s careful camera work. The DoP enables the hostile natural surroundings and the fog to heavily affect the film’s mysterious, uncomfortable atmosphere, opting for a darker, grey-toned palette for the exteriors and more reassuring, warmer colours for the interiors.
Later in the film, the surreal, imaginary component gains more prominence, as F dreams of escaping his depressing wasteland and seemingly learns English, the language of “astronauts” and “travellers”. Despite the story being set in the Andes, there is little trace of the Spanish language, except for two tracks that form part of the score. Notably, Sandino chooses to limit the dialogue as much as possible, and the few lines that there are are uttered in English or the (fictional) dialect of Sunapakún, which contributes to immersing the viewer in a lyrical, but still rather alienating, journey set in a “non-place” and at an unspecified time, which may be close to the present day (owing to the presence of a few more modern objects, such as radios and cars).
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