Wednesday, 23 January 2013
24th Edition of the Trieste Film Festival. Loznitsa awarded the main feature prize talks about his 'In the Fog'
While Russian and Russian-language films are not usually central to the programme of the Trieste Film Festival (previously known as Alpe Adria), the festival occasionally offers some impressive offerings from Russia, former Soviet states while concentrating more of its programme on what were often former Soviet satellite countries in Central Europe as well as the former Yugoslav republics which have now turned into independent countries. In the past the festival has paid homage to film directors such as the Germans (father and son), Paradjanov and more recently Sergei Loznitsa showing a retrospective of his documentary films. Sergei Loznitsa returned this year to win the much deserved main feature film prize for his В Тумане (In the Fog). A tale set in World War Two in Belorussia it was as, Sergei Loznitsa himself confirmed to me in Trieste, a dialogue with Larisa Shepitko's Восхождение (The Ascent, 1977). Interestingly Sergei Loznitsa himself characterised his own film as an 'anti-Soviet film' and yet ironically the film was so full of dialogue with films made in the Soviet era about the war (Loznitsa himself mentioned films by Elem Klimov, Alexei German and even Tarkovsky's early film about the war, Иваново Детство (Ivan's Childhood, 1962) and completely alien to the war films made in the last decade or so, that the 'anti-Soviet' epithet that he used was more about the way of treating the subject matter rather than in some of its stylistic features. Thus the main reasons for it being an anti-Soviet film were the fact that in a Soviet war film the main character could not possibly commit suicide in order to retain his sense of dignity (even though this solution is hinted at in Shepitko's look at a former Soviet war hero and her social confusion in peacetime in her film Крылья (Wings, 1966) and the idea that the Second World war was as much a civil war as anything else. Loznitsa also through a dialogue in his film seems to think that the break between war and peace also is not so brusque. In many ways the long shots and meditative pace of the film allows one to reflect on space and time in a quite unique manner. One film critic at the festival suggested that Loznitsa film style was, in some way, anti-modern reflecting back to the work of Miklós Jancsó and Theo Angelopoulos of the 1970s and the early 1980s, although this characterization seemed a rather debatable one.
This mischaracterization, however, did lead on to a fascinating discussion of what is modern cinema anyway. While Loznitsa was very sceptical about this idea he did give a reply to what he saw as signatures of a certain type of modern film. He mentioned the following : the idea of it being destructive of a sense of dramaturgy leaving the important things to be played out in the background as well as its attempt to create an almost documentary style of acting with the narrative being in real time and with this comes an attempt by the camera to show things in a quasi- documentary manner. Loznitsa mentioned a propos of the ideal documentary Pasolini's work Il vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, 1964). He went on to talk about documentary film at more length stating that real documentary no longer exists due to certain new features as much social, political and quasi civilization as much as specifically cinematically and cited the influence of television in destroying the art documentary. Here, however, Loznitsa tried to see this as an objective process which wasn't altogether negative. He believes that there is a positive trend here in how the spectator also develops very fast and is always demanding something new and this fact alone disturbs the acceptance which had existed previously. The filmmaker went on to speak about the situation in Belorussia highlighting how it was not possible to characterize it as a simple dictatorship and that we will need years to describe what the situation is- for Loznitsa the inescapable fact is that most people in Belorussia are not against the state of things that reigns there. He talked about how the premiere of his film in Minsk somehow was an event that united regime supporters and opponents and how his film was linked to the rehabilitation of the writer Vasily Bykov who was a fierce opponent of the Belorussian regime and lived the last years of his life abroad. Again Loznitsa reminded me that the dialogue of the Shepitko and his film was also a dialogue which was present in the two books by Bykov on which these films were based (Loznitsa stressed this fact very much by linking his opening scene very much to the closing scene in the Shepitko film).
Loznitsa then went on to talk about his latest film which he shot in Latvia. While he had hitherto been a very hermetic filmmaker here in this new film he used a lot of montage. For Loznitsa in his new film the main feature is that he tried to shoot the film without a main hero (and, if anything, he hopes that the spectator will become the main hero). He linked this to the fact cinema is still a very heavy art form and while painting and literature have made steps in excising the main hero, cinema has not been able to do this yet. Cinema has hitherto been a tool that wishes to control the spectator and Loznitsa wants to free cinema from this. He linked this inability of cinema to go this further step by the way films are produced and how has lost its role of being an avant-garde art. His last film though shot in a mere 28 days, it was prepared for over a year.
Finally a question from the audience about whether Loznitsa wanted to leave us in doubt about the suicide of the main character to which the director replied obviously not that there could be no doubt lead him to make an interesting couple of remarks about the final scene. Loznitsa stated that the fact that the ending came with a sound rather than an image reflected the formalist in himself but also that he just couldn't see how the protagonist shot himself- it was hidden from Loznitsa as much as from us by the fog and that it was, in many ways, both an aesthetic and ethical decision.