DIR: Fedor Bondarchuk • WRI: Sergey Snezhkin, Ilya Tilkin PRO: Sergey Melkumov, Alexander Rodnyansky, Dmitriy Rudovskiy • DOP: Maksim Osadchiy-Korytkovskiy •ED: Igor Litoninskiy • MUS: Angelo Badalamenti • CAST: Thomas Kretschmann, Yanina Studilina, Philippe Reinhardt, Mariya Smolnikova
Fedor Bonadarchuk’s Stalingrad arrives on Irish screens with the hum of Russian cinema receipts tailing it gleefully. A gargantuan hit in its home country, this post-Soviet stab at that most tumultuous of a turning point in WW2, aka The Battle of Stalingrad attempts to tell the tale of a group of five mismatched soldiers holed up in the same ruined town house, all falling for the same woman who seems to poetically represent the nation’s hope at a future beyond the German onslaught of operation Barbarossa. I entered the screening (a 3D IMAX presentation) with my expectations not quite fixed on the level of the 1993 German epic of the same name but certainly ambling slightly North of the extremely okay 2001 Jude Law vehicle Enemy at the Gates, which depicts the same conflict through the eyes of a sniper. What I witnessed once the lights came down was not only a film that misunderstood such pretentious tropes as character and plot but also the stone-age aesthetic of what war actually is.
Determined not to allot this travesty more page-space than it deserves I’ll elect to speak in comparison. The greatest war film I’ve yet beheld is the 1985, also Russian, Come and See, primarily because it is simultaneously thrilling and harrowing; each shot of adrenaline it pumps into the viewer is accompanied with a pang of horror as the reality of the history therein depicted sinks home. 2013’s Stalingrad is closer in scope to Zak Snyder’s 2011 wet dream, Sucker Punch. Each time a camera swoops annoyingly to provide a clearer view of the slow-spinning tip of an artillery shell Bonadarchuk’s film moves further from the point. It is bookended by segments featuring an old man telling the tale to a young girl trapped underneath tons of rubble in the hours following the 2004 Stephen’s Day tsunami in a paper-thin bid to convince the audience that war is substantially less craic than even earth-shattering natural disasters but truth be told, the director seems to be having so much fun bullet-timing amongst CG-rubble that any point he may have originally intended becomes quickly buried beneath green-screen and the visages of actors far too clean and healthy in appearance to ever legitimately convey the horrors of war even if the script were up to close scrutiny.
Rather than indulge my more cynical side any longer I’ll list the reasons there may be to see Stalingrad.
1) If for some reason or other you’ve forgotten what made Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour so particularly atrocious and desire a reminder.
2) If you’ve ever wondered what cinematic treats Josef Goebbels might have produced were he assigned to the Soviet cause.
3) If you seek a basic antithesis for the manner in which real historical war should be depicted in popular entertainment.
If none of these three reasons apply to you avoid this mess at all costs.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Stalingrad is released on 21st February 2014