It begins with a hanging: Three Belarusian railroad workers are strung up by the occupying Germans in 1942, an action—captured in the first of many impressive extended tracking shots—that resonates through the lives of a second trio of men. Two of them, Burov (Vladislav Abashin) and Voitik (Sergei Kolesov), are resistance soldiers. The third is a former comrade, Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy), who Burov and Voitik believe caused the execution by collaborating with the Nazis. The mercenaries lead Sushenya into the woods to kill him, but fate deals them a different hand.
For a while, Sergei Loznitsa’s rigorous adaptation of a novel by noted Belarusian author Vasili Bykov is mysterious and gripping. The whispery sounds of the forest impart a lulling yet tense sensation, as if death could come from anywhere at any moment. Plus, the performers are all expert at suggesting the hidden depths that inform their characters’ varied actions and personalities. Abashin’s no-nonsense stoicism complements Svirskiy’s enervated submissiveness particularly well.
But obviousness sets in when the film begins flashing back to the men’s lives before their current dilemma. The initial strangeness wears off as the narrative rhythms become more predictable—enter past, return to present, repeat—and the clichéd existential metaphors pile up. (That titular haze is, as one suspects, a thuddingly literal fog of war.) Loznitsa would have done better to embrace the story’s enigmas as opposed to explicate them.
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