Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Fedor Boncarchuk
Screenplay: Sergey Snezhkin, Ilya Tilkin
Cast: Thomas Kretschmann, Yanina Studilina, Philippe Reinhardt, Mariya Smoknikova, Heiner Lauterbach
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 2/12/14
Opens: February 28, 2014
Since the movie begins around the current year, which serves as a framing device, the narrator might have noted one of the great ironies of the Battle of Stalingrad 1942-1943. Some decades after the brave Russian soldiers fought to defend their motherland as represented by Stalin against German occupation, the Soviet regime itself dismantled statues of Stalin and renamed the site of one of history’s bloodiest battles Volgograd. But never mind. To allow for credibility, the narrator, Gromov (Pyotr Fyodorov) is at the scene of an earthquake in Japan in which Russian emergency workers are busy rescuing German children who are buried by the catastrophe. To keep one kid’s spirits up, Gromov tells the story of his “five fathers,” who turn out not to be biological. The “fathers” are a small group of Russian soldiers trapped behind enemy lines in 1942 in Stalingrad, entire seen center of the city as destroyed as you could find in a modern dystopian movie about the apocalypse. The Germans had blown up a fuel supply: a small group of Russian are hidden in an apartment building where they “adopt” a young tenant, Katya (Maria Smolnikova). A brotherly relationship develops as the Russians determine to save Katya from harm.
The more interesting romance develops across the way where Hauptmann Kahn (Thomas Kretschmann), a German officer, rapes Masha (Yanina Studilina), a mostly silent, 18-year-old Russian woman, and then falls in love with her. That they don’t understand a word spoken to each other, that’s no matter. Nor does nationality matter or the fact that a war is on. Love is love, though Masha’s Russian countrymen—and the Germans as well—consider Masha a whore, a collaborator. As hearts go out—from the Russians to Katya and from one German to Masha—the battle goes on, a battle that will last for one hundred sixty-two days marking a turning point in the war against Hitler. After Stalingrad, the Nazis lost all momentum.
The fight scenes are filmed in St. Petersburg and Kronstadt, using movie sets depicting the center of Stalingrad and the east bank of the Volga River. Director Fedor Boncarchuk, a forty-six year old with an impressive résumé of acting credits, makes good use of the 120 million rubles (thirty million dollars) to display an impressive an array of firepower, including explosions, machine gunning, tank firing, grenades, stabbings, close range pistol firing and hand-to-hand combat. In the most impressive scene, one which could have used a background of Shostakovich’s nationalistic Symphony #5, a squad of Russian soldiers, bodies aflame, charge the German lines shooting as they run and scream, jumping on the enemy and incinerating them.
As for human relationships—which as far as I know some people might be interested in more than in the IMAX 3D videogame photography—the more interesting one involves Masha and Captain Khan. Kahn does what he can to protect the new love of his life, and Masha can use all the help she can get given the feelings she evokes in her countrymen who call her the “German whore.” She realizes that her life is probably over, that she will be shot soon by a German (or by one of her own for collaborating) and that she faces an uncertain future when the war is finally over.
Filming the carnage, cinematographer Maksim Osadchiy-Korytkovskiy does an impressive job with Angelo Badalmamenti’s soundtrack knocking out the right patriotic notes. If the film lacks psychological development of the principal players, that’s not so bad. The patriotism and pride of the comrades are front and center and, surprisingly the Germans are not treated as little more than Huns by Sergey Snezhkin and Ilya Tilkin’s screenplay. The Nazi colonel (Heiner Lauterbach), even calls the Russians “barbarians,” who would “shoot you in the back,” and another notes that he came into the war as a soldier and has turned into a beast.
The picture is overlong. The framing device could be cut without loss and some of the repetitive confessions of love could be shaved. Subtitles, originally said to have included some “howlers,” seem just fine now, and, thanks goodness, the German speak German (originally the crew meant to have Germans speak Russian).
Unrated. 135 minutes. © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B
Tehcnical – B+
Overall – B