Landscape in the Mist

(Theo Angelopoulos, Greece, 1988)


In the opening shot of Theo Angelopoulos' Landscape in the Mist, a small boy, Alexander (Michalis Zeke), and his pre-teen sister, Voula (Tania Palaiologou), emerge from the darkness and approach a spot near the camera. They stop. The camera slowly begins to circle them. She: "Are you afraid?" Boy: "No, I'm not." Suddenly they break away and walk, faster this time, towards a train station that we can now see in the distance.

This one-minute take is stunning, and sets the pattern for much of what is to follow. People and vehicles doggedly sticking to their paths, oblivious to all else, sometimes pausing, sometimes changing speed; barren or dark landscapes with a single stark, prominent feature; harsh, natural sound replaced, as a scene empties out, with Eleni Karaindrou's intense music. And, above all, Giorgos Arvinitis' camera circling, advancing and withdrawing at a rhythm and with an intent always distinct from the action, always inscribing the curiosity, passion, wisdom and pathos of Angelopoulos' gaze.

Such patterns give figure and form to the deliberately slim and open-ended plot events: the children run away from home and attempt to reach Germany by train to find a father who may not exist, encountering strangers helpful or menacing along the way. Landscape in the Mist is a bleak but exultant road movie somewhere between Roberto Rossellini's post-war chronicles of fragmentation and Chantal Akerman's landscape-centred panoramas of a hollow New World Order. (Akerman's production company was involved in this film.)

Almost nothing ever connects in these unnamed spaces and places between Athens and the German border: as Voula and Alexander stand in a courtyard, in front of them a tractor unhitches a dying horse, and behind them a wedding party exits frame, singing and dancing.

Only in the tentative relationship between Voula and travelling player Orestes (Stratos Tzortzoglou) does the image begin to hum with the tension of attraction and repulsion. But only for a precious, little while: once again these children will walk, pause, and walk away still faster down an endless highway, as the camera lifts high into the cold air and Orestes waves a forlorn farewell twice, to no one.

MORE Greek cinema: A Touch of Spice, The Very Poor Inc., A Song is Not Enough

© Adrian Martin March 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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