Entertainment Movies

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Sentimental war flick ignores big picture


stalingrad (15A, general release, 131 minutes)

Director: Fedor Bondarchuk. Stars: Pyotr Fyodorov, Dmitriy Lysenkov, Aleksey Barabash. HHIII

These days it's accepted by pretty much everyone that Adolf Hitler lost the Second World War at Stalingrad. After that monumental winter battle, the Nazi regime never quite recovered its swagger, and the Third Reich faced the nightmare of war on two fronts. Little wonder that the battle is still revered in Russia, and perhaps that's the reason why this Fedor Bondarchuk war film has broken box office records in its home country. To be honest, I can't think of any other.

It's estimated that more than a million lives were lost during the four months that the Battle of Stalingrad raged, and Bondarchuk's film examines the conflict from the point of view of a group of Soviet reconnaissance troops taking part in a decisive Russian assault. Gromov (Pyotr Fyodorov) leads a small group of soldiers who get stranded in a ramshackle apartment block after crossing the Volga and sneaking behind German lines. There they find a vulnerable young local girl called Katya (Mariya Smolnikova) who becomes a symbol of what they're fighting for in that blasted shell of a town.

Stalingrad is not without its moments, and certainly succeeds in vividly recreating the desperate hand-to-hand street-fighting that was such a feature of the battle. But it gives absolutely no overview of the conflict, is both gratuitously jingoistic and absurdly sentimental, and offers no insights into how Stalingrad played out tactically. Sometimes, Russian heroism stretches one's patience: for instance, soldiers on fire, even Soviet ones, probably didn't run away from the river and towards the Germans.

Mr Bondarchuk's slow-motion fight scenes seem out of place, and almost disrespectful given his subject matter. And the casual viewer comes away from Fedor Bondarchuk's noisy epic none the wiser about how the great battle was won and lost.

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