Mania Grade: B
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- Rated: R
- Starring: Mariya Smolnikova, Yanina Studilina, Pyotr Fyodorov, homas Kretschmann, Sergey Bondarchuk
- Written By: Sergey Snezhkin, Ilya Tilkin
- Directed By: Fedor Bondarchuk
- Distributor: Sony Pictures
- Format: IMAX 3D
- Run Time: 131 Minutes
Mania Review: Stalingrad
First 3D IMAX Russian Film
By Robert T. Trate
February 28, 2014
© Sony Pictures
If you care for war pictures or even just a bit of history, Stalingrad is something you want to see. The other hook is Stalingrad is the first Russian movie released in 3D. It is also the first non-North American film in the IMAX format. So while I sat there with my glasses on, facing that giant screen, I tried to have a completely open mind. Yes, the film would be all in Russian and German. When was the last time I saw a Russian film, if ever? An open mind and no preconceptions and I was ready for Stalingrad.
What might be off-setting to many Americans is that we know very little about the battle for the city of Stalingrad. It is barely touched upon in our history books. The story takes place in November of 1942 when the Germans are occupying pieces of the city and the Russians are trying to take it back. Other than that, there isn’t a lot of history to the film in terms of body counts, days, weeks, or politics. If you watched the 2001 film, Enemy at the Gates, with Jude Law, you might understand a little bit more about Stalingrad. It would probably be best to pick up a history book after the film. Stalingrad, the film, is just a little piece of war and what these particular characters do to survive it.
The story is told by Russian to a German during a recent catastrophe. The Russian rescue worker dives into the story of his mother and his five fathers. We are then transported back to the ruins of another city, Stalingrad. The opening attack on the docks of Stalingrad shows horrors that are too insane to not be true, which is fitting as the battle for this city is considered the bloodiest in human history. We see the Russian's Kapitan Gromov (Pyotr Fyodorov) and a loose collection of men take a very important building from the German’s Kapitan Kan (Thomas Kretschmann). This building supplies a clear eye-line for the Germans to attack the Russians coming into the city. Kapitan Gromov and his men discover one resident of the building has not left. Katya (Mariya Smolnikova) is an eighteen year old girl who has buried everyone in her life and wants to help the soldiers remove the Germans from her city. This is the mother of our rescue worker.
With any foreign film, it is difficult to pick up on everyone’s name. With soldiers, it is even worse when they have nicknames. The combination of these two elements make it hard to identify with who is who. Thankfully, as the story unfolds, Katya learns more about these five men and we are given more to identify with each. There is brutal sniper, the father who has lost everything, the solider who needs his men to fight for the right cause, the celebrity, and the boy that loves Katya. The language barrier is there, but, through her, by the end, we know enough about each and every one of them to care.
The juxtaposition to this story is that we see what the Germans are doing as well through Kapitan Kan. Now the Germans are not painted as heroes or even sympathetic. This is, after all, a Russian movie. Kapitan Kan is driven by his Colonel to take back the building he lost. We follow Kapitan Kan into the heart of the city where he has taken up with a Stalingrad woman named Masha (Yanina Studilina). The two cannot understand one another, and only we are privy to what is actually said. Their love story is one sided as Masha resembles Kapitan Kan’s deceased wife. We eventually learn that the cost of war has pushed these two to rely on another to survive. Kapitan Kan needs something beautiful and pure in his insane world. Masha needs this German or she, too, will be exterminated. These scenes are wonderfully played by these two actors, However, it is difficult to understand Kapitan Kan’s mood change after another failure in trying to take the building.
There is the insanity of war captured on film here through IMAX and in 3D. The scope of the picture is definitely complimented by IMAX’s picture and sound. One wishes that Saving Private Ryan was shot in this way. As for the 3D I found it almost unnecessary. There were no bullets flying directly at you, nor were there explosions that made you shift in your seat. It only added to the depth of destruction in the square where the Germans and Russians fought. Director Fedor Bondarchuk captures the insanity of combat rather well, despite his one sequence that was clearly inspired by numerous Zack Snyder pictures.
Stalingrad is an interesting experience as this little story, in a big piece of war, reminds us of how far we have come in the world.