The fragility of life in the Bosnia and Herzegovina borderlands is challenged by the arrival of refugees in this immersive Visions du Reel winner

The Landscape And The Fury

Source: Visions du Réel

‘The Landscape And The Fury’

Dir/scr: Nicole Vogele. Switzerland, 2024. 140mins

The recent past lies just below the surface along the Bosnia and Herzegovina-Croatia border in The Landscape And The Fury, present in the abandoned artefacts of conflict and felt in the lives of those who have survived war. In Nicole Vogele’s sombre, atmospheric and immersive documentary, the fragility of everyday life in this area is challenged by the arrival of refugees fleeing horrors that are all too familiar to the people here. This shared experience fosters a bond of compassion that lies at the heart of a restrained but rewarding film that should secure further festival interest after winning the Grand Jury Prize at Visions du Reel.

 Sombre, atmospheric and immersive 

Vogele, whose previous documentaries include Fog (2014) and Closing Time (2018), chooses not to provide the viewer with any context or introduction. (It is only in the closing credits that we discover that filming took place in north-western Bosnia and Herzegovina, near the border with Croatia.) Instead, we are immersed in the landscape. In the dark of night, we hear a rumble of thunder, the crack of twigs as feet edge through the darkness and cries of “wait, wait!”. In daylight, we see vast forests and the remnants of the 1990s Bosnian war – a rusted tank, a rounded bomb crater and a team systematically marking off where land mines still lie buried. Yet, on some level, life is normal. Wood is chopped, corn is harvested, men meet for a beer at the only shop for miles. The unusual comes in the form of refugees seeking temporary shelter and rest as they undertake epic journeys to safety.

The film’s measured pacing and often static camerawork insist that the viewer must pay attention to what is in front of them. On closer examination, the rain-sodden fields and muddy paths reveal the lives of those who are passing through. Broken phones, lost shoes and passport photos can be glimpsed just beneath the fallen autumn leaves. Random snatches of conversation provide a sense of what refugees have experienced at the hands of the Croatian police who – in shades of Agnieszka Holland’s Green Border – are accused of stealing their money, smashing their phones and sending them back where they came from. For some, it is clearly not the first time they are attempting this journey. A man on a tractor passes a group of lost refugees and doesn’t even give them a second glance, suggesting how commonplace their presence has become. 

Vogele makes excellent use of sound design to further esconce the viewer in the location. The clang of a cow bell, the bark of a dog, the steady drip of rain through a forest of trees all build the picture of a relatively sleepy rural community.

Intensely observational in her painstaking approach, Vogele finds some of her best sequences in those moment that reveal the greatest humanity. Two old friends casually remember fallen comrades from three decades earlier, quietly concluding, ”It is good that it is over.” A Bosnian family sit in the comfort of their home discussing how important it is to offer some food and assistance to any refugee who asks for it. “Seeing them reminds me of old times,” one declares.

That shared experience of peril informs an instinct for compassion. When a group of refugees later find a temporary summer refuge, the sun is out and local resident Samir gives them a gift of a small inflatable paddling pool for the children. It is a day that stays with them on the long journey ahead. 

The Landscape And The Fury never spells anything out, and might possibly benefit from further trimming. Vogele puts her trust in the viewer to ask questions, think deeply and learn from the bigger truths revealed in snatches of conversations, anguished cries in the dark and random acts of kindness.

Production company: Beauvoir Films

International sales: Taskovski Films.

Producers: Adrian Blaser, Aline Schmid

Cinematography: Stefan Sick

Editing: Hannes Bruun

Music: Alva Noto