On September 30 the prerelease of Fyodor Bondarchuk’s new film Stalingrad took place in Ukraine. The official premiere of the film in Russia was scheduled for October 1 and on October 10 the film will be released on big screens. The film was presented to the Ukrainian audience the day before the official premiere in Volgograd for the veterans of the World War II. “About a hundred of people aged over 90 sat in a small movie theater wearing 3D-glasses and medals. We offered them to organize a 2D-screening, but they got offended,” told the film director Fyodor Bondarchuk about the film presentation in Volgograd. However, Bondarchuk Jr. did not mention the reaction to the film of those, who survived the events of Stalingrad battle. Instead, Novaya Gazeta wrote about what happened after the film screening in Volgograd: “Klavdiya Mikhailovna, Astrakhan Cossack (during the Stalingrad battle worked on the labor front) asked a theater worker: ‘Where can I find Bondarchuk to talk to him?’ ‘I am sorry, but nowhere,’ answered the worker.”
What is, in fact, Stalingrad all about? It is a true Hollywood blockbuster with Russian flavor. The “trench truth” is absolutely absent in the film, although the titles mention the epic novel by Vasily Grossman Life and Fate as one of the literary foundations. The characters are schematic, associated with the place and time only through off-screen remarks of Bondarchuk, who tells their stories of Russian, not even the Soviet, people. And if you change the geography of these stories, you might, as well, get the stories of American people in Normandy during the World War II. They could even fight against aliens in another galaxy, since the characters of Stalingrad are rather models than real people. The statements made by the creators of this film that it will be based on the experience of the Russian and Soviet cinematography about war remained the empty theory. The audience got an action film with the corresponding budget – 30 million dollars, and special effects. Massive explosions, shooting at houses with tanks, burning soldiers, who continue to fight anyway, close-ups of aircrafts and armored vehicles, circular panoramas of devastation, and slow shots of the battle. Despite of this there is practically no blood shed in the film, the emotional impact on the audience is achieved rather through staging and sound than naturalistic visualization. Such position is most likely dictated by the age barrier of the film – “12+.”
What concerns the realism of the events, the film is based on unpretentious antithesis: Germans – are bad, moral degenerates, and the Russians are good, highly moral patriots of their country. Pagan “Fritz” burns a woman with her little daughter alive, making this a kind of a sacrifice before an attack. Russian soldiers cross themselves at the beginning of the film and walk on water “like on solid earth,” while the nickname of one of the leading characters is Angel. A German officer takes what he likes – Russian girl Masha. Because of this her compatriots start to hate her and eventually kill her, while no one laid a finger on 19-year-old Katia, who sheltered Russian soldiers in her home, the prototype for which was Pavlov’s house. The inspiration in the battle for the “outsiders” is the end of the war and transition to India, where six-handed women of easy morals are waiting for them. The Russians are fighting for their homeland, embodied in the innocent girl Katia. The plot of the film is framed with the story that happened after the earthquake in Japan, where a Russian rescuer, a son of that girl Katia, saves German children, who got under derbies, and tells them the story, while pulling them from under the crashed slab.
Who is this cocktail of multiculturalism, where action sticks over chronology, aimed at? Given the fact that American film and television company “Columbia Pictures” joined the production of the film, along with the Russian audience it is designed for a young cosmopolitan, not deeply interested in historical context. Young characters attract the audience of the same age. Most of these Russian actors have not yet gone beyond the boundaries of national filmmaking and the leading role was performed by Pyotr Fyodorov, who already starred in Bondarchuk’s productions. By the way, the son of the film director Sergei Bondarchuk also starred in this film. Fyodor Bondarchuk also played his role in film Stalingrad directed by Yuri Ozerov back in the 1990s. Another actor, who had previous experience with Stalingrad, is Thomas Kretschmann (German officer Peter Kann) – he starred in the film with the same title directed by German film director Joseph Vilsmaier. However, Stalingrad of 2013 is nothing like these older films, except, maybe, for the famous fountain. According to the producer of Stalingrad Alexander Rodnyansky, the film crew wanted to create a myth. They succeeded at this.
The Day asked the Ukrainian audience about their impressions from the film:
“3D and IMAX are designed for contemporary young audience and it is probably hard to tell them such story without special effects,” said Yuriy MINZYANOV, General Producer of “Star Media.” “The level of the production is high – it has a Hollywood approach computer graphics, staging, sound, the work of the artists… Stalingrad is a powerful blockbuster. Such stories should primarily affect the audience emotionally and the filmmakers have achieved this. Of course, the film will be received in different ways in global release. Despite the fact that different languages are spoken in this film, Stalingrad is a deeply national film.”
“It is difficult to predict what the reaction of the Ukrainian audience to this film would be,” Liudmyla HORDELADZE, director of the movie theater “Zhovten,” commented for The Day. “I can’t say whether this film will be a great success and whether the audience will have a desire to watch it again… I have recently finished reading a book by Alexander Rodnyansky Vykhodit Prodiuser (Producer Comes Out) where he explains how he produces a film. According to him, in order to release a film for the consideration of the international audience and gain popularity among the Russian audience, one must find some compromises consciously. Some might call it ideology, others – just an ability to earn money.”