DVD Landscape In The Midst
Landscape In The Midst is released as part of The Theo Angelopoulos Collection: Volume II box set.
Theo Angelopoulos is not only known for his reputation as one of the last European visionaries, he furthermore comes to stand for a filmmaking which attempts to map the rich landscape of the ‘Greek soul’. Landscape In The Mist is part of what the director describes as his ‘trilogy of silence’, representing three films linked by their symbolizing a journey through human consciousness, memory, the common unconscious and, ultimately, marked by the silence of God.
Landscape In The Mist is a sensitive portrait of 11-year-old Voula and her 5-year-old brother, Alexander, who embark on a mission to find their unknown father, who, according to their mother, makes his living in Germany. It becomes clear very early on that this father figure is but an illusion, conjured up by their mother.
Sticking to their beliefs, like only children can, the two decide to continue their journey anyway, with no money, no idea as to what their father might look like, or where he might be in Germany. As such, their mission comes to resemble a fairytale quest in which the children defy all adult warnings and realities as lies and decide to never give up.
Unfortunately, this is as far as the fairytale goes, as the children are thrust into a world in which they grow up too fast, where they learn about money, love, violence and the loss of childhood and innocence. They meet Oreste, a theatrical actor who shares their capacity for dreaming.
Not all of the characters they meet on the road are as understanding, however, as Voula gets raped by a truck driver in a scene which is even more horrible through its understatement and silence.
In the end, the children reach the borders of Germany, which, by now, has been negated as the notion of goal or arrival. Rather than a journey out of, this is a trip into the mist…
The comparatively quintessential story of two protagonists on the road, following a dream, is subverted into a modernist journey through a desolate Greek landscape. This is defined by aimlessness in which the concepts of time and space are not only questioned, but seem to become obsolete – a world in which any system of values collapses.
Theo Angelopoulos is often seen as the last of the European auteurs – a reputation he lives up to with Landscape In The Mist, as he follows in the footsteps of an early Wim Wenders in exploring the genre of road movie, but most notably his text comes to pay homage to Agnès Varda’s Vagabond and Antonioni’s Avventura. Like the protagonist in Vagabond, the children exist outside a societal norm and meet further characters who live on the societal fringes. This devalued universe has no place for the innocence of children and their fragility makes them ill-equipped to deal with it.
The images translate as almost a surrealist, visual poetry, conveying the sense of modern alienation.
At the same time, the film echoes the theme of looking for something that does not exist, a theme Antonioni is more than fond of, as it comes to stand for the modernist notion of the disappearance or, rather, non-existence of values in a profoundly absurd universe, which has neither a conceptual core nor an existential framework. Through the children, the concept of values is exposed as constructed, as they are submitted to the utmost violence and, in the end, have to relinquish their childhood altogether.
Angelopoulos keeps his distance from the characters, in order not to engage in false sentimentality. He mostly depicts the children in somewhat disengaged long-shots, which serves as a means of observation rather than involvement. Each shot, as such, comes to represent a tableau or still-life, altering between the magical and the stark, as the children hasten through a enchanted world of still characters standing in the snow, witness an ancient sculpted hand being lifted out of the sea by a helicopter, or sit next to a dying horse while a wedding party celebrates in the background. The film lives by this marriage of disparate images which, even though proving the profound absurdity of this universe, nevertheless never contradicts the assumption of beauty in this world.
The children wander through a modern Greece which is littered with industrial carcasses mirroring the desolate economic state of the nation. The concept of nation, historic past and identity are explored, if never resolved by Angelopoulos. For example, the theatre company recite their personal memories of World War II and the Greek Civil War to the wind on the beach, while a lone Turk claims desperately that he is not the enemy, even if the other characters pay no heed to him. This is a nation, or indeed a world, in which the historical past has unravelled and, as such, exposed the abstraction of a geographically binding common identity. The concept of time is exposed as well, as the children lose all perception of it, being in a hurry, while lingering, not knowing whether they are going forwards or backwards.
The images translate as almost a surrealist, visual poetry, conveying the sense of modern alienation. At the same time, however, one has to wonder whether this sense of loneliness is not highly romanticised by the images – too symbolic and therefore theorizing the very protagonists. As such, the characters sometimes seem to become lost in their very symbolic significance. The authentic performances, from both child actors, and their mute defiance not only takes a stand against this nihilistic universe, but furthermore against the over-ambitious allegorical zeal of their director.
Angelopoulos manages to paint a convincing picture of the loss of childhood, the unravelling of dreams and the existence in an absurd universe in which any grounding principle is, ultimately, exposed as societally constructed. The stately, magisterial mise-en-scène transforms the images into theatrical tableaux, which even if slightly alienating the characters, prevents the film from succumbing to melodramatic sentimentality. Bleak, honest and hauntingly magical, at times, Landscape In The Mist clearly belongs to the great modernist canon of the European auteurs who use the camera-pen to draw a subjective image of the world while conveying a sense of cinematic beauty that becomes as surrealistically poetic as it is brutally honest.
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