Stalingrad has oh so many flaws and some rather odd structuring of the narrative and is a film which I could complain about for a long time; however it is also possible to fall prey to its alluring visuals that ultimately do seduce. From Russian director Fydor Bondarchuk, this representation of the devastating battle that took place in Stalingrad centres on a group of Russian soldiers and their relationship with Katya (Maria Smolnikova), a local woman refusing to leave her home, while they also attempt to maintain control of a single building the Germans have yet to seize. As both sides develop relationships with local women stuck in their now demolished home, Stalingrad is an epic tale of determination and desperation, ‘epic’ being the definitive word that sums up this film.
Said to be one of the most ruthless and bloodiest battles in the history of warfare, this film was set to hopefully shock and amaze its audiences by showing an intense depiction of horrific battle scenes. It also had the benefit of my already keen interest to view a cinematic representation of World War 2 that does not contain any portrayals of English or American soldiers. I had high hopes and a rather childlike excitement to see high quality 3D explosions. It certainly did not disappoint in that department. Stalingrad is an absolute pleasure for the eyeballs that was awesome to experience. The 3D actually felt relevant for once, enhancing the fast-paced action that engulfed its audience. A scene in which Russian soldiers storm the banks of Stalingrad, attempting the seemingly impossible task of literally running through ferocious fire to tackle the Germans, stays on my mind. The brute force of this scene alone was enough to hypnotise me into feeling satisfied with just action for two hours, which is an aspect of cinema I don’t usually regard highly. The spectacle of the whole film did certainly leave me in awe and physically exhausted. It felt natural to compare it to Zack Snyder’s 300, the almost comic book appearance of the film feeling very similar. However, although great to look at, it does take something away from the importance of the story being told. Everything looked very fake; it was so CGI constructed it felt hard to believe that the Battle of Stalingrad was in fact a real event in history. This then led to some of the violence appearing slightly ridiculous and a bit too farfetched to be at all historically accurate.
The characters themselves are also something to feel divided on. The most significant and stand out performances within the film were from the group of Russian soldiers, with a variety of unique and interesting characters, each actor embracing his roll impressively. My personal favourite though was Thomas Kretschmann’s sensitive Nazi officer. Pretty much portraying the same character as he did in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, Kretschmann is probably one of the most established actors involved, and you can tell. His performance as Peter Kahn was both heart-breaking and twisted as he became more in love (or obsessed, depending on how you want to see it) with Masha (Yania Studilina) a local woman still living in the ruined Stalingrad. Which brings me onto the female characters of the film; this is where I begin to get angry at the slightly disappointing writing. The two main women of the film, Katya and Masha who have somehow gained the love and respect of all these soldiers were just irritating and not at all convincing as strong, independent women. I can see the characters’ significance to the plot and the tragic atmosphere they create but the way in which it was executed was just not up to the standards I would usually expect in this day and age. Katya in particular just felt pathetic and a bit of a nuisance.
It wasn’t just in the female characters that the writing failed to obtain an accurate or believable representation, but also the narrative structure felt a little obscure and slightly irrelevant. The opening and ending of the film essentially had nothing to do with the battle of Stalingrad and could have been cut altogether without affecting much of the main plot. The irrelevance was mostly heightened by the fact that the film did feel overlong. Although, as I said, this film does have many flaws which are easy to point out, it is still enjoyable. If you can accept these slips it is a great deal of fun to watch the immense explosions for two hours. I think sometimes it is ok to sit back and let the action begin. This film is saved by its visuals and I would recommend it just for that. I also recommend it to Thomas Kretschmann fans like myself.