By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Four Beers) –
The year is 1942, and Germany is at the height of it’s imperial ambitions, having conquered much of Europe. It now sets its sights on total conquest of the Soviet Union. In one city on the Volga river, their success or failure is being determined. Soviet Troops pour across the river, desperate to hold the few positions still defended in the city. One small group of scout troops, under orders to hold their ground, fortifies an apartment block, and waits for reinforcements. Five of these scout troops take it upon their-selves to protect Katya, a shell shocked civilian who refuses to leave the apartment she calls home.
On the other side of the square, the Germans plot to take the apartments. Commander of the attack is Captain Kahn, who has developed an obsession with blonde haired civilian girl Masha. In spite of being stalked, raped, and held against her will by Kahn, Masha herself finds begins begrudgingly falling for him.
This big-budget Russian film was shot entirely in IMAX and on 3D cameras, and wears its visual pastiche on its sleeve. Nearly every shot is gorgeously rendered. Clearly inspired by the hyper-violence battle sequences of The 300, the film features plenty of computer-enhanced effects and slow-motion photography which gives the film a kind of gritty surrealism that is sure to satisfy action movie buffs.
The film’s first big battle sequence is perhaps one of the most unsettlingly spectacular ever filmed, featuring troops charging up a burning hill, catching fire, and charging directly into the German lines.
The sequence easily one-ups the opening battle sequence of the 2001 film Enemy At the Gates in terms of capturing the absurdity, struggle, and insanity of combat.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of Stalingrad is in how it manages to accomplish so much visually, and so little in terms of story. The plot feels borrowed out of 1940s American war film conventions, in that it avoids any controversial statements about the nature of war, instead concentrating on depicting the heroics of its lead characters. The fact is, modern war films have moved past serving merely as ultra-jingoistic propaganda pieces. And the fact that Stalingrad seems determined to live within John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima territory does not do the film any favors in the intelligence department…
This may be an issue with the translated subtitles, but the dialogue felt nearly amateurish at times. The film has a wrap-around segment which takes place in modern times, which is used in a way which feel right out of a soap opera. For a film which prides itself on delivering visually, it seems strangely afraid of telling any of the story with the visuals. The film’s narrator takes time to describe the background of every single character, one by one. These scenes drag out the film’s runtime unnecessarily, and throw off the pacing. A better director might have used the quieter moments to reveal their past through subtle character moments, perhaps even allowing these characters to gain depth through experience, rather than bland narration.
The subplot involving the German Captain who falls for a Russian woman feels like it should have some depth to it, by showing the torrid way relationships develop in war. However, the film also clearly vilifies this character far beyond the ability for the audience to find any empathy. This is made all too clear in a previously mentioned scene where he forces the girl into sex. The way he treats her, it seems bizarre that she begins developing any kind of love for him. If it was meant to be a Stockholm Syndrome sort of thing, they didn’t play it off in a way which would have made that believable as well.
This film feels like the kind of dumbly propagandistic action film that, like Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, will nevertheless be shown in history classrooms by teachers who stopped giving a fuck years ago.
But if you can divorce yourself from that, the action scenes are pretty impressively shot… so there is that…
Take a Drink: whenever the narrator rambles on about the back-story of characters
Take a Drink: for questionable battlefield physics (Ricochet cannon shot, WTF?)
Drink a Shot: when obsession turns to rape which turns to true love for a young German officer and his Russian
victim lover (again… WTF?)