Rated R | Time: 2:11
In Russian and German, with subtitles
Stalingrad is a huge, old-fashioned combat spectacle, a war story told on a vast scale and shown on vast IMAX movie screens, in 3-D.
Its Russian oh so very Russian, an epic of The Great Patriotic War that mixes vivid, blood-and-guts combat with chest-thumping patriotism and pathos.
And unfortunately, its more than a little clumsy, from its absurd framing device to the simple head count of the cast of fathers who saved a young woman, and the world, during the bloodiest battle in history.
In late 1942, Soviet reinforcements cross the Volga River and storm through a wall of fire to seize an apartment building on the front lines. They rescue a young rape victim, Katya (Mariya Smolnikova), and struggle to protect her from the Germans, led by a mournful, war-weary captain (Thomas Kretschmann), who are on the brink of throwing the Soviets out of the city.
Kapitan Gromov, played by an emotional Colin Farrell look-alike (Pyotr Fyodorov), worries that his tiny band will be too busy saving Katya to save Mother Russia. But in the symbolism of the cinema, she is both girl-victim and Mother Russia traumatized by war, clinging to vestiges of civilization in her parents art- and piano-filled apartment, hell-bent on hanging on and having her revenge.
Director Fedor Bondarchuk (the fine Afghan war thriller 9th Company was his) stages the room-to-room, hand-to-hand fighting with a brutal, bloody brio. The thoroughly ruined sets, from the riverfront with its improvised rafts floating troops across, to the everything-is-burned-bombed-and-broken apartment blocks, put us inside the battle.
But this film was plainly built for the Putin-esque Soviet sorry, Russian market. Every excess has an old-fashioned hint of Soviet-era propaganda about it. As interesting as it might be to get a whiff of how the Russians see themselves and their history, Bondarchuk keeps finding ways to turn off overseas audiences.
Take the frame in which the story is told. Bondarchuks famous actor-director father Sergei (Waterloo, War and Peace) plays an elderly Russian doctor telling the story of his mothers survival to a bunch of injured Germans trapped in a building collapse in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Heroic Soviet sorry, Russian rescue teams went there to save the day.
The old doctor tells the story of the battle through the eyes of his mother, who always told him he had five fathers, the men who saved her and perhaps fathered him during or after the battle.
The problem with that? There are plainly six, not five, men heavily invested in Katyas survival. At one point, they even pose on the steps of the apartment building six of them. Who was left out of Moms count: the kapitan, the silent opera singer turned killing machine (Aleksey Barabash), the piggish sniper (Dmitriy Lysenkov), the gruff Navy warrant officer (Oleg Volku), the one they call Angel, or the other they call Sissy?
Landing Kretschmann, whose big break was saving The Pianist at the end of Roman Polanskis WWII film, meant building his character up, giving him a Russian comfort woman (Yanina Studilina) whom he holds hostage because shes a dead ringer for his dead wife and treats as his lover-confessor even though they dont speak each others language.
Convincing digital dive bombers attack, and missiles fired from German Moaning Minnie launchers streak through the smoke-filled skies. Jews are murdered, and back-talking Soviet sailors are summarily executed. Every so often, for the sake of a plot device, a soldier of this side or that one yells Freeze (in Russian or German, with English subtitles) rather than carrying on the killing spree, just so we have the hint of foes taking prisoners and debating, face to face.
Its a movie every bit as bloated as the biggest movies Bondarchuks dad made in his heyday. In detail and combat spectacle, Stalingrad is hard to beat. And whatever its failings, one cant help but be curious about a story as connected to national identity as this one a film that, like todays Russia, feels more Soviet than Russian.
(At AMC Independence, Studio 30.)
| Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune