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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Stalingrad

Starring: Dana Vavrova, Dominique Horwitz
Director: Joseph Vilsmaier
Rated: NR
RunTime: 150 Minutes
Release Date: January 1993
Genres: Drama, Foreign, War

*Also starring: Heinz Emigholz, Jochen Nickel, Karel Hermanek, Martin Benrath, Sebastian Rudolph, Sylvester Groth, Thomas Kretschmann

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

From the producer of the highly acclaimed film about German subs in World War II, DAS BOOT, we have STALINGRAD. Like DAS BOOT, it attempts realistically to portray the rank and file of the German soldiers during WW II. Like the even better movie DAS BOOT, which I thought was fascinating, STALINGRAD is a chillingly effective picture. The grunts who fought on the German side had a lot of misery to bear, and this movie puts you in their boots. STALINGRAD by director Joseph Vilsmaier is an effective anti-war film that has more in common with ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT than with any other film.

DAS BOOT develops its story by focusing in on the commander of U-boat so that we get to know him personally. We then learn of his crew and the small world around him in his claustrophobically tiny submarine. In contrast, STALINGRAD is an ensemble piece (Fritz Reiser (Dominique Horwitz), Hans von Witzland (Thomas Kretschmann), Manfred "Rollo" Rohleder (Jochen Nickel), GeGe (Sebastian Rudolph), Irina (Dana Vavrova), General Hentz (Martin Benrath) and Otto (Sylvester Groth)) where we don't really know any one soldier as much as we get into their collective psyche. The film is so anti-war, that you leave the theater wanting to find a newspaper, pick the first war you read about, and leave to go protest against it. Very effective.

STALINGRAD, as you may will have guessed, tells the story of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, the German siege of Stalingrad. We become brothers with the German grunts as they are pinned down fighting for their lives while freezing and starving. We see the humanity on both sides during a brief truce to pick up the dead bodies, and we witness the mistrust as the truce is shattered. We learn that "God be with you" was on the German army's belt buckles, and we pray with them before battle. It seems that they thought God was on their side too. They even sing "Oh Tannenbaum" on the way to one of their battles.

Gore, mein Gott, does this show have gore. Given what they were depicting, I do not think the violence is gratuitous, but you may want to bring one of those airline barf bags with you to the show. You will see lots of limbs blow away with bloody cartilage dangling in the wind. In one scene we see a war time amputation with a less than sharp knife. Blood flows everywhere. There is no glorification of war in this movie whatsoever.

All of the gore notwithstanding, much of the show is about the German soldiers trying to survive the cold and keep from starving to death. There is a long sequence about some of them trying to go AWOL that is reminiscent of CATCH 22.

The show is genuine in its emotions. When a young soldier accidentally shots his friend, he wants to be shot himself. An old timer consoles him by telling him, don't worry, I've done it myself.

The cinematography (Rolf Greim, Klaus Moderegger, and Peter Von Haller) deserves lots of awards. Two of the best images are the red hot of the explosions in the fight in the factory and the bleak images of the tank battle in the snow. In the tank battle, we have Russian tanks being fought by German foot soldiers who were German prisoners for screwing up in a previous battle. One of the soldiers asks, "where is our artillery" and the other answers, "you're the artillery!"

Although the film is realistic, the music (Norbert Juergen Schneider) is overdone and would fit better in one of those pseudo-epic films. The costumes (Ute Hofinger) and the sets (Jindrich Goetz and Wolfgang Hundhammer) effectively illustrate the horror of that time and are excellent.

Like DAS BOOT, the small items add realism. As both sides are trapped in a factory building, the Germans get their letters from home and their inedible slop that goes for food. One letter from home is a classic Dear John; another brings the latest soccer scores.

The German soldiers laugh at the lies in Hitler's broadcasts. He paints a winning picture of the battle with light resistance, but they know the Russians are fighting hard. The movie depicts all Germans above the level of captain to be sadists. Although Russia was ruled at the time by the equally sadistic Stalin, the Russian high command is never mentioned. In a typical scene, starving German soldiers in German prisons on Christmas Day are offered a piece of bread as a treat, but must agree to "say pretty please" to the evil German officer in charge first.

STALINGRAD runs 2:12, but the effective editing by Hannes Nikel makes the time go by fast. It is in German with easy to read English subtitles. This gut wrenching film is unrated, and knowing the MPAA they would probably give it an R. Personally, I think it is definitely NC-17. It would probably be okay for mature teenagers over 16. I recommend this show to you, but I think it sad to say that probably few people will ever see it. The theme of this movie cries out to be seen. Finally, I award the film ***.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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