Not the 1990s German film of the same name, but the more recent Russian one. This might be our first family effort on Movie Monday, since director Fedor Bondarchuk’s dad directed an earlier Movie Monday film, Waterloo.
So when I saw that this was a modern Russian Stalingrad movie, I made the following guesses:
- 100% likelihood it will be a big, sweeping glurgey patriotic epic.
- 50% likelihood it will look cringeworthily half-assed.
- 50% likelihood it will look bonkers great.
Well, it is a big sweeping patriotic epic, and it looks … mostly bonkers great. It has patches of visual brilliance interspersed with patches of same-old same-old gritty Saving Private Ryan stuff. If you like war movies, though, I recommend giving it a look. There is an early sequence in which Russian troops attack through a cascade of burning oil that’s painted in deep blues and glowing reds and looks a battle on the floor of Hell. And the interiors are all lush and City of Lost Children-y. I mean, it’s a cartoon, but it’s a hell of a stylish cartoon. Where else are you gonna see a burly WWII Red Army guy leaping across a trench to do crazy slo-mo wuxia spinny fighting armed with an entrenching tool and a bayonet?
Anyway, it’s got everything you’d expect. A ragtag band of misfits have to defend a strategically vital building against zee Chermans. I’m not sure if it’s specifically meant to be the Pavlov House or just a reference to it. It’s got:
- Our battle-hardened hero who still retains some nobility in his soul.
- The funny/creepy sniper.
- The gruff old veteran with a core of fatherly kindness to him.
- The German who ain’t all bad (although he’s still pretty damn bad — and he’s Baron Strucker, to boot. Oh, and he was in the ’93 German one).
- The German who is all bad.
- The coward who finds his courage.
- The plucky girl who becomes the squad’s mascot / love interest.
- And so on and so on.
And, yeah, they’re corny stereotypes but they’re played with vigour. And the way in which it mixes ultra-straight-faced melodrama with completely over-the-top action (like the scene in which they take out a German artillery emplacement with a bank shot from an anti-tank gun) is really endearing.
Anyway, it’s on Netflix in the UK now; I wouldn’t recommend giving it your full attention for its over-two-hour run time, but if you want to put something on while you’re doing something else, it’s not a bad choice.
As a piece of history? I mean — “the battle of Stalingrad was pretty fucked up,” that’s about it. But that’s not untrue. And it does a pretty good job of putting the civilians in the centre of its narrative, which is always desirable. Sure, it does it with tattered-teddy-bear levels of sentimentality (and I mean there is a literal tattered teddy bear) but what did you want?