To say that the Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos is a movie poet doesn't mean that the poetry isn't patience-trying or mediocre.
In "Landscape in the Mist," the director brings his talent for lyrical theatricality to the story of a 14-year-old girl named Voula and her little brother, Alexander (Michalis Zeke) who embark on a journey to find their father. The children, who have the big-eyed, soulful waifishness of storybook kids, have never met him, but their mother, wishing to shield them from their illegitimacy, has told them that he lives in Germany. Soon they climb aboard an express train to the north. But without tickets or money, they are quickly thrown off, starting them on their true odyssey.
In terms of genre, "Landscape" is a mytho-poetic road movie. To the extent that its ambiguities can be parsed, it's about an existential search, a voyage toward the unattainable. In the beginning, before the narrative shifts to dime store surrealism, the urgency of the children's quest is affecting. As a story of innocents abroad, it has genuine emotional power. But the further from reality the story strays, the further into allegory and metaphor, the less compelling it becomes.
By the time the children run into a leather-jacketed young actor-biker named Orestes (Stratos Giorgioglou)who works with a motley theatrical group that stages only an obscure Greek variation on "Romeo and Juliet" called "Golfo the Shepherdess," the film begins to verge on self-parody.
Undeniably, though, Angelopoulos has a keen eye for staging and can bring startlingly evocative images to the screen. A brilliantly sustained shot in which Voula (the exquisitely melancholy Tania Paleologou) is raped by a truck driver in the back of his rig is excruciatingly discreet. (We see only the tarp covering the opening at the back of the truck.)
Little else is as powerful. If on occasion there are provocative images, there are also long stretches when the camera pans uneventfully over the industrialized Greek landscape. The film has been praised and Angelopoulos's limited international reputation mourned, but it seems as if he has been applauded more for the other artists he evokes -- Wenders, Tarkovsky, Antonioni -- than for his own original voice. "Landscape in the Mist" is knockoff poetic.