As "Landscape in the Mist" opens in modern-day Greece, two youngsters - a girl of about 13 and a 5-year-old boy - are running, hand in hand, to the train station. As they stop at the train and watch intently, as if they are waiting for someone to step off the platform, a vendor asks them why they come every evening.
Then, just as the train is about to pull out, the children haltingly approach the train as if they are going to climb aboard. They don't quite make it and they remain there, with heads sadly bowed as the train goes by - their backs to the camera the whole time.This sets the tone for the film, which is very slow moving and somewhat ponderous, with a minimum of dialogue and little detail about these two youngsters in terms of the life they have heretofore led.
What we do learn early on is that they live with their mother (whom we never see), believe their father to be in Germany and long to see him, hoping he will "understand" them. But actually, as an uncle says, "There is no father, there is no Germany." It is all a fabrication their mother came up with to keep the kids from knowing they are illegitimate and she doesn't know who their fathers are.
It isn't long before the kids run away from home and hit the road, heading for Germany to look for their father, though, of course, they haven't the slightest idea of what that entails.
Along the way they encounter a variety of people, most of them friendly and helpful, though at one point a trucker rapes the girl (off-camera). During this scene, the camera focuses on the black flap covering the back of the truck. Two cars pull over to the side of the road, but then go off again. What specifically is happening inside the truck as the girl's innocence is destroyed? We don't know. We don't want to know. Yet, the stark image of that black flap and the workings of our own imaginations make it horrifying.
By and large, the film is even more ambiguous and filled with symbolism. There are some fascinating images here - people in the street become paralyzed as they stare up in the sky watching an unexpected snowfall; a giant carved hand rises from the sea and is spirited off by a helicopter; a dying horse is dragged by a tractor, which stops when the rope breaks, prompting the children to stand over it and weep; a band of actors rehearses lines on a beach as the camera slowly circles around them; and the film's hauntingly beautiful final moment, after the boy quotes a variation on Genesis, when a tree appears out of the mist as if to beckon them with an offer of shelter and safety and they run to embrace it.
"Landscape in the Mist" is not an easy film, and mainstream audiences might be somewhat put off by its oblique, often downbeat viewpoint. In that regard, director/co-writer Theo Angelopoulos would appear to be something of an acquired taste along the lines of Soviet filmmaker Tarkovsky.
But there are rich rewards here, and the patient moviegoer looking more for art than plot will feel rewarded.