Innocent Eyes --`Landscape In The Mist' Is A Haunting Road Tale

XXXX ``Landscape in the Mist,'' with Michalis Zeke, Tania Palaiologou, Stratos Tzortzoglou. Directed by Theo Angelopoulos, from a script by Angelopoulos, Tonino Guerra and Thanassis Valtinos. Neptune Theater, tonight through Sunday. No rating.


Life is surpassingly strange in Theo Angelopoulos' ``Landscape in the Mist,'' a haunting, extraordinary Greek road movie about two children searching for a father they will never find.

Their unmarried mother has fed them a fairy tale about their missing parent having moved to Germany. In truth, she has no idea where or who he is, but her 14-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son have been given something to dream about, and they hop a train to Germany to find fulfillment.

They're penniless, of course, and almost immediately they get thrown off the train for having no tickets. In the course of their frequently interrupted journey, they see a bride running away from her wedding, a woman who babbles to herself about a hanging, a horse dragged into the street and left for dead.

A snowfall stops an entire police station from functioning, while the children escape through the flakes in slow motion. A soldier gives the girl money, apparently not out of charity but because he's afraid he's said something stupid. A huge earth-moving machine creeps toward the children, like a 1950s science-fiction monster, and ``speaks'' threateningly. A helicopter raises a giant stone hand out of the water, and the partially broken fingers seem to beckon to them from the sky - and from antiquity.

Very little of this is explained, but it is absorbed and pondered by the children, whose closest companion is a gay biker (Stratos Tzortzoglou) who works for a failing acting troupe and all but adopts them. The movie is not so much a story as a series of haphazard events, episodes on a journey that has a destination only in the children's heads. Occasionally something dramatic happens to them, although it's rarely portrayed in a dramatic way.

Inanimate objects appear to take on independent life, while animated objects - people - seem indifferent to what's happening in the same frame they share with others. In perhaps the most pitiless of rape scenes, the girl is thrown into the back of a truck and assaulted by its driver while other cars tentatively move off the freeway and stop, as if to help, then move on.

Yet for all the despair that's inherent in scenes like this one, Angelopoulos doesn't peddle hopelessness. The final sequence is one of the most buoyantly enigmatic moments in film history. It has a religious purity, heightened by the boy's innocent references to Genesis, that never seems pretentious because it so simply suggests how the universe can be regarded without prejudice.

Widely praised as one of the world's great directors, Angelopoulos is just now finding an audience in the United States. This film, originally shown in Europe in 1988, is booked for only a three-day run this weekend.

Like many a unique talent, he's something of an acquired taste; his technique can hit you the wrong way. His previous film, ``The Beekeeper,'' seemed as tedious as this one is wondrous. At the very least, ``Landscape in the Mist'' whets the appetite for ``The Travelling Players,'' an earlier Angelopoulos film that includes some of the same characters.

Winner of numerous festival prizes, and a deserving fixture on several of last year's ``10 best'' lists, ``Landscape'' was a runner-up in the audience awards for best film and director at last year's Seattle International Film Festival. It carries hints of the best work of early Antonioni and Fellini, the German road movies of Wim Wenders and even the David Lynch who made ``Blue Velvet,'' yet almost nothing about it is trite or expected.

It's one of those rare movies that makes you look at the world differently. The intensity and poetic deliberateness of Angelopoulos' vision is hard to shake.