In recent years, Colombia has really begun to reveal itself as a very interesting home for strange, introspective indie cinema in a way I don’t think anyone expected. With global voices taking the mainstream stage and with storytellers unafraid to tell stories the way they directly intend to, Colombia, and its complicated history, particularly in the modern era, are left with some truly stunning, challenging films like Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent and Birds of Passage, Alejandro Landes’s Monos, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria, to name just a few. These are all powerful, unique portraits of stark natural beauty, with the pains of colonialism and violence speared through them. Augusto Sandino’s A Vanishing Fog (Entre la niebla), holding its North American premiere at SXSW 2022, exists as just another reminder that, love it or hate it, Colombian cinema has come to remain a powerful force in the universe of world cinema today.
F (Sebastian Pii) is a young man living in the remote mountains of Colombia, taking care of his invalid father, Colombo (Mario de Jesús Viana), and desperately trying to learn English, despite only speaking Sunapakún (a fictional indigenous language made specifically for this film). His days are long and dull, and he pines for the clamor of the outside world beyond the grand mountains he calls home. As his isolation turns to frustration and disorder, F begins to experience powerfully surreal visions, telling him the story of violent colonialism in his country, sexual repression, religious fervor, and of his place amongst the foggy mountains of Colombia.
A Vanishing Fog is a deeply strange film that doesn’t quite hit home until well after the credits roll. There’s a sort of respect one has for the daring, unconventional approach to storytelling here (even by the Colombian film standards mentioned above), but as the vividly esoteric images of the film are burned into my brain long after the film has ended, I’ve found that, even amongst the inconsistencies, I couldn’t shake the uneasy bewilderment I had from the film, and the fascinating ways that it unfolded its intricate messages.
But perhaps more than simply the surreal images of the film, it’s Pii’s tragically endearing performance as the elusive F that has impressed me most within A Vanishing Fog. Like the rest of the film, there’s an uneasiness to his entire performance, but also one of a genuine sweetness that comes from his longing for the outside world. This is not a story that seeks to make his plight relatable, or even comfortable for the viewer to digest, as a story of this nature shouldn’t, but like all good forms of storytelling, even in its hyper-specific focus, F’s desires feel universal.
As most films that tell their stories through particularly unconventional mediums, there are moments when A Vanishing Fog can feel rather opaque or even rather empty compared to its more structured counterparts existing in the same vein. At 75 minutes, A Vanishing Fog is an objectively short feature film that spends a few too many moments meandering around empty (albeit beautiful) vistas and extended sequences that make their points long before the scenes end. There’s a lack of immediacy that, while admirable in many regards, also makes the point for the film to exist rather as a tighter, more effective short film.
A Vanishing Fog is a striking, if occasionally inconsistent, surrealist take on the colonialism that has haunted indigenous communities of Colombia for centuries through the eyes of one lonely young man. It takes very big swings, often result in some big whiffs, which remains admirable nonetheless if not for the film’s daringness to do something I’ve never seen before. It’s helped wonderfully by a supremely vulnerable performance from Sebastian Pii that culminates in one of the more moving final scenes of any movie I’ve seen in quite some time. I do wish the entirety of this sometimes erratically paced film could’ve kept that same energy, but what worked with A Vanishing Fog stayed with me long after it was over.
Screening during the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
SXSW Screening Information:
* Friday, March 11th, Screening @ 5:00pm at Alamo Lamar C
* Saturday, March 12th, On-line Screening @ 9:00am
* Sunday, March 13th, Screening @ 7:45p at Alamo Lamar C
* Wednesday, March 16th, Screening @ 12:45p at Violet Crown Cinema 2
* Wednesday, March 16th, Screening @ 1:15p at Violet Crown Cinema 4
Final Score: 3 out of 5.