Stalingrad (2013)

(On Cable TV, February 2016) The siege of Stalingrad is such a monumental historical event that any film trying to describe it is probably doomed to failure. The latest Russian attempt Stalingrad does manage to get a few things right, even though it falls short of providing an entirely satisfying experience. The problems start early on, as the opening credit sequence shows us a modern Russian cargo plane, which lands in Japan after a ruinous earthquake. It turns out that this is from a clunky framing story that creates more expectations than it fulfills. After a few more minutes, we’re finally back to 1942 Stalingrad, as five soldiers end up taking refuge in a strategically important building that has clearly seen better days. A (largely platonic) romance with the woman still occupying her apartment ensues, with a few subplots. Curiously, the battle of Stalingrad feels smaller given how the film chooses to constrain itself to a small area of the city. But whatever one may think about the story pales in comparison to the visual riches the film has to offer: From the first moments to the last, the visual polish of the film is astonishing, and the quality of the action sequences that the film has to offer is spectacular. Director Fedor Bondarchuk knows what he’s showing, and even in its small moments (say, in portraying how a formerly grand apartment has fallen in maddening decay) Stalingrad is beautiful to look at. This does much to compensate for a lacklustre script that hints but does not fully portray its subject matter: while the film may not be that good, it’s still worth a look for sheer visual prowess.

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