Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Five Best Soviet Era War Films

Stalingrad, February 1942

Five Best Soviet Era War Films 

There’s an interesting article written recently by Michael Sontheimer from Der Spiegel that contains historical accounts from interviews of Russian soldiers directly after the Battle of Stalingrad, only recently released from the Russian archives, dated November 2, 2012

An Inside Look at World War II's Bloodiest Battle 

Over the next few days, a different choice will be posted each day.  This should be an interesting challenge, where the theme will be restricted to WWII, since the most horrific human conditions imaginable occurred during that part of Russia’s past.  Some of the most grim and unforgettable war images come from Soviet era war films, as none were bleaker and more miserable, matching their wretched history, as Russia lost 15 – 20% of their entire population, and anywhere from 22 to 26 million deaths overall, not to mention captured soldiers, the injured, or the missing, to keep the Germans from overrunning Moscow and Stalingrad in World War II, coming within 20 miles of Moscow, which is something unfathomable to Western sensibilities and perceptions, but the extreme degree of misery and loss is the essential ingredient in understanding Soviet war films.  In contrast, America lost less than half a million war dead in WWII, and 58,000 in Vietnam.  It’s probably fair to say the fatalistic bleakness of Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr comes from the Soviet sensibility, where humans under extreme duress were challenged to such an unheard of degree that hopeless futility was common, where the spirit was literally sucked right out of a people, when all odds were continually against them.  This was an era when people were expected to do the impossible, survive the harsh winter elements on no food or worn out boots, or maintain their health and spirits when people all around them are dying, not to mention have the fortitude to endure the many psychological tests, such as poor leadership, or the many secret police interrogations which are all part of the war experience.  Perhaps the most uniquely defining element captured in these films is the psychological complexity of understanding the dread and fear of the characters seen onscreen, who are unlike those in any other era, where the idea of surviving the madness of it all is an enduring testament of humanity. 

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