Theo Angelopoulos' Τοπίο στην ομίχλη a.k.a Landscape in the Mist (1988) follows young Voula (Tania Paliaologou) and her brother Alexander (Michalis Zeke) as they embark on a questionable journey to Germany where supposedly their father lives. Along the way the two kids form an unusual bond with the charismatic Orestes (Stratos Tzortzoglou) who is on its way to join the army.
A road picture that continues Theo Angelopoulos' fascination with his native Greece Landscape in the Mist is a never-ending collage of beautiful vistas. Much like the director's previous works this is also a film that relies heavily on the delicate use of color – from the night scene at the beach where Voula and Alexander see a man dragging a dying horse to the daylight episode where a group of traveling actors are notified that their services are no longer needed color(s) appear of paramount importance. They reflect joy, pain, happiness and disappointment.
Yet, strangely enough Landscape in the Mist is not a film of visual contrasts. Most certainly not in terms of color use. On the contrary it very much feels as something Andrei Tarkovsky would direct. Gloomy, misty, almost hypnotic at times this is a story that pushes the viewer into a near state of lassitude. The only thing that keeps the senses aroused is the director's striking gift to discover beauty where most would see boredom.
Landscape in the Mist is also built around plenty of symbolism. Loss is countered with jubilation (the dying horse is just a few feet away from a couple celebrating their wedding), a sense of belonging is countered with an ugly scene suggesting a terrible crime (Voula and Alexander hugging each other minutes after the young girl is shown with blood dripping between her legs). Are these scenes suggestive of Greece and its struggle to make peace with a tumultuous past? I certainly think so!!
It is probably fare to conclude that those who seek some sort of a logical conclusion in Theo Angelopoulos' works will routinely be disappointed by the director's lack of interest in such. It is a well known fact that the Greek filmmaker favors the so called "open-endings" where the audience is given the opportunity not only to reflect but also further elaborate on what the story has initiated. In Landscape in the Mist the struggle of the two kids to uncover their father is only a pretext for showing a country in a desperate search for identity. Past, present, Balkan mentality, European modernity, there is plenty here that characterizes the Greek state.
The first and only Angelopoulos film to be theatrically distributed in North America Landscape in the Mist is a monumental achievement that ranks right next to the Greek director's highly-regarded O Θίασος a.k.a The Traveling Players (1975), To Βλέμμα του Οδυσσέα a.k.a Ulysses' Gaze (1995), and Μια αιωνιότητα και μια μέρα a.k.a Eternity and a Day (1998). In 1989 Landscape in the Mist won the coveted Best Film Award granted by the European Film Academy.
How Does the DVD Look?
I was quite worried when I first looked at the back cover of this Greek DVD. There I saw a tiny text announcing that the film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's. Good thing it is only a bluff (some sort of a strange typo)! Landscape in the Mist is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and the print is in near top-notch condition. Once again this DVD release has been personally supervised and approved by Theo Angelopoulos. And it clearly shows!! The difference between the R1 New Yorker disc and this new Greek presentation is striking. Instead of muddy colors and lack of detail this disc offers very good contrast, a completely different color-scheme, and a progressive image that far surpasses what New Yorker did on their disc. There is a good amount of natural grain in this film and for the most part I am very impressed with how it was handled by the Greek producers.
Furthermore, those of you who now own the R1 disc are probably well familiar with the delicate night scenes where grain is prevalent. Unfortunately on the New Yorker disc the grain often transformed the night scenes into a muddy mess with no detail whatsoever due to the improper conversion. On the Greek disc the story is quite different. While the grain is still present and the intended by Angelopoulos "soft-look" prevalent (especially during the night scenes) the clarity the print reveals is simply stunning. For what its worth during key scenes this just looks like a different film!!
My only concern with this disc is the fact that once again I noticed a few minor scratches here and there. I am convinced most if not all could have been addressed! Yet I would not hesitate for a second to recommend this new presentation as the one and only version of Landscape in the Mist worthy of your attention. If you have any interest in the work of Theo Angelopoulos suffice to say a better version of this film is non-existent. Region 2, PAL-encoded.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with two optional tracks: a Greek DD 2.0 and a Greek 5.1 mix the DVD has no issues that one should be concerned with. Crystal clear and easy to follow dialog is what we have here. The marvelous soundtrack by Eleni Karaindrou comes off the speakers beautifully. Finally, the film comes with optional English and French white subtitles which fortunately appear in the regular "small" font, not the bigger one discussed in the review for The Suspended Step of the Stork, and they look quite well. That being said, I noticed four minor syntax mistakes.
None, as it has been the case with each one of the Greek DVDs part of this collection.
Surpassing the R1 presentation by New Yorker in every possible department this newly restored print is basically the one to own!! Plain and simple! I hardly have any complains with this release (sans a few spelling and syntax mistakes which could have been corrected). Let's just hope that the third and final batch from New Star-Greece won't take forever. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
This review was made possible with the kind assistance of Xploited Cinema.