who question Russia’s commitment to sustainability should at least give them
credit for recycling their titles. In 1989, Fedor Bondarchuk received one of
his earliest acting credits in Yuri Ozerov’s Stalingrad. Twenty-some years later, the thesp-turned-director has
helmed Russia’s first film produced entirely in 3D IMAX—and it happens to have
the same title. It essentially ends the same way too, but some weird editorial
choices distinguish Bondarchuk’s Stalingrad
reining box office record holder, which opens today in New York.
large measure, Bondarchuk’s Stalingrad is
inspired by the heroic exploits of Pavlov’s House, the strategically located
apartment complex doggedly defended by Sergeant Pavlov and his men. In this
case, it is Captain Gromov and his comrades who have dug into a reinforced
tenement right across from pretty much the entire German army. While most
civilians have evacuated, the elfin Katia has defiantly remained, to stoke
jealousy amongst Pavlov’s men and to give them something personal to fight for.
few steps away, Captain Peter Kahn is tasked with crushing all pockets of
Russian resistance. However, National Socialist war atrocities have dampened the
Prussian elitist’s morale. He is more concerned with Masha, another Russian
women stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the tradition of bodice
rippers, he initially “ravishes” her, but then starts to fall in love with the
Russian beauty. She also seems to warm to him as a protector, but fears for the
consequences if and when the Soviets expel the Germans.
the weirdest element of Bondarchuk’s film is the framing device, in which a Russian
emergency responder tells a group of Germans trapped in the rubble of the Tōhoku
earthquake how his mother met his five fathers during the siege of Stalingrad,
because nothing is more reassuring than episodes from the bloodiest battle in
human history. Dude, next time, don’t help. Frankly, the way the film exploits
Japan’s 3-11 tragedy would be deeply offensive, if it were not so ludicrous. Seriously,
Russian rescue workers digging out Germans in Sendai?
the plus side, Bondarchuk makes stuff blow-up really well. Obviously, he did
not intend to waste his blank check in the IMAX store. He devises all sorts of dramatic perspectives
on the action, while vividly capturing a sense of the claustrophobic nature of
close quarters fighting. He is also either surprisingly fair to the Germans or
simply lets Thomas Kretschmann run circles around the rest of the cast as the
ethically nuanced Kahn.
he represents the film’s most believably complicated character and develops
some powerfully ambiguous chemistry with Yanina Studilina’s Masha. In contrast,
Gromov and the other four fathers are all either colorless Reds or borderline
war criminals. Either way, they make little lasting impression. It almost makes
a viewer wonder if Bondarchuk set out to be deliberately subversive.
It seems unfathomable that a Russian WWII epic
can make audiences sympathize with the Germans. Yet, if you close your eyes and
think of Stalingrad a few days after
taking it all in, it will be Krestchmann and Studlina whom the mind’s eye will
recall. Nevertheless, Russia duly submitted Stalingrad
as its official foreign language Oscar contender. Perhaps it is still
preferably in Russia to declare a dubious victory than admit an obvious defeat.
Sort of recommended in a confused way for those who appreciate battlefield
spectacle, Stalingrad opens nationally
today (2/28) including in New York at the AMC Empire and Lincoln Square theaters.
Labels: 3D films, Russian Cinema, Stalingrad, WWII Cinema