A film that screams so loud despite its silence: Landscape in the Mist

by Julian Toh

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angels’ Orders?

—Rainer Maria Rilke

As the young Orestis (Stratos Tzortzoglou) recites the first sentence of famed poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s First Elegy, a giant disembodied hand rises spectacularly in slow motion out of the water and is carried into the distance by a helicopter in an indulgently long take. The result of this imagery would either be considered utterly poetic by some, or dismissed as confounding with equal fervour by others.

Concluding as the third installment of Theo Angelopoulos’ “A Trilogy of Silence”, Landscape in the Mist (1988) continues as a critical piece of contemporary Greece, projected through the eyes of two young siblings Voula (Tania Palaiologou) and Alexander (Michalis Zeke). The two children dream about their absent father every night, longing to cross the border from Greece to Germany to visit him. They finally embark on their misguided quest, in search of truth, enlightenment, and to fill the void of their ethereal father. The expedition is wrought with pain, revelation, growth, maturity and love, amongst a gamut of emotions that creep up on you subtly.

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The journey starts with their acquaintance with Orestis, a cheerful and vivacious stage actor who “hates funerals”, yet understands that his job is to make people smile and cry – something he successfully does with the two children he encounters. The story is much more complex than the relationship between the three of them. Orestis is a surrogate father who becomes the Oedipal focus of Voula, but alas, cannot assuage the emptiness and isolation of the two children who ventured too far.

The film is the epitome of screen poetry – an eternal dream peppered with shots of mythical beauty. To the unaccustomed, Landscape might be the dreary, painful meandering down a long and endless river, only to realise there is no destination after all. I have encountered frequently people who are averse to anything remotely art-house. This term has somehow become synonymous with “pretentious”, “esoteric” or “monotonous”, and there are reasons for that.

Film has entertained audiences for decades, and its primary purpose remains that, but beyond the superficial façade of amusement, film has been a powerful agent of influence and introspection, provoking shifts in ideology and even inciting revolutions. To approach a film with the intention of only being entertained closes doors on many great works. Film is the amalgamation of the visceral and the intellectual, allowing us not only to feel it, but also to ponder upon it.

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Landscape is undoubtedly a challenging film to sit through. There are moments of pure cinematic magic so arresting that you can only surrender yourself completely to the beauty of them. Yet there are also situations so rich with intra-textual meanings that if we looked at them with a shallow perspective we might easily dismiss them as the most banal or ludicrous scenes. Still, I urge you to see it. More importantly, I urge you to see it with an open mind, and to see it with a keen mind.

Some films are intentionally loud to stir our emotions, and some films quiet enough that we almost wish they’d speak up. Landscape is a film that screams so loud despite its silence.

Perhaps its only wish is that someone in the Angels’ Orders might hear it.

Julian Toh is one of the programmers for Perspectives Film Festival 2015. In his free time, he watches films voraciously to lose himself in fictional worlds, and occasionally hopes never to return. He is currently an undergraduate at WKWSCI pursuing a specialisation in Broadcast and Cinema Studies.