Stalingrad-e1389300669540More often than not, when we are treated to films from across Europe, they are minimalist art house productions, with filmmakers utilising their modest budget by focusing predominantly on the acting performances and narrative at hand. It’s therefore somewhat intriguing to see such an epic, big-budget war drama hailing from Russia – as Fedor Bondarchuk’s Stalingrad is the nation’s first ever fully 3D production, and also the first to be shot in the IMAX format.

We begin in present day Japan, as a Russian rescuer attempts to put a group of trapped German children at ease, by recounting the tale of his mother and his five fathers, which took place in Stalingrad during the Second World War. We then proceed to go back in time to the fateful set of events that occurred in the long, arduous autumn of 1942. Though renowned for being one of the bloodiest battles in history, our tale is a somewhat intimate one, as a stand-off between the German occupiers, and a small group of Russian soldiers, in a nearby apartment building. It’s there where our narrator’s mother Katya (Mariya Smolnikova) comes into the story, as the lone tenant seeks protection from the five soldiers, as we explore love and companionship amongst the collective, in the face of an immensely destructive battle.

What this picture may lack in emotional investment, it makes up for with its memorable visual experience, as the large budget has certainly been put to good use, as you get immersed in this tale, as Bondarchuk takes you to the very heart of this battle. Draped in a cold, grey aesthetic, appearing exactly as we picture it from textbooks and rare footage, the imagery suitably matches the immense notion of melancholy and the distinct lack of hope that emanates. Then in the distance is the orange glow of burning fires, and it’s an eerie, atmospheric addition. Another visual treat are the well choreographed fighting sequences, however they’re almost too cinematic and overstated in their approach, detracting from the realism somewhat. That said, the battling is not overbearing, as the majority of scenes take place in the derelict apartment, as we explore the varying relationships formed between our soldiers, and the young 18 year old girl caught up in it all.

Despite the bleakness that exists, the film feels detached, and it’s a struggle to get truly involved in these characters. Katya aside, the soldiers simply aren’t fleshed out enough, and though they each have their own unique idiosyncrasies, and subtle personality traits, their development isn’t quite perceptible enough. The entry point into this tale is well-judged though, and although it feels contrived at times, the modern perspective works both symbolically and effectively in regards to setting our tale, and finding an imitate strand in what was an immense battle. The patriotism exists, naturally, as the Russian soldiers are generally heroic and barely flawed. However the German soldiers, in particular Captain Kahn (Thomas Kretschmann), is humanised somewhat, and although fighting for the opposition, his empathetical nature makes for an intriguing antagonist.

Stalingrad is certainly an accessible entry into this moment in time, and though perhaps not quite educational enough to include in a history curriculum at school, it’s certainly got enough about it to point the broader public in the direction of the horrors of this devastating, cataclysmic battle. It’s a flawed production, certainly, but the ambition is to be admired as it’s a bold piece of filmmaking, and given it feels so grand in scope, hopefully this will pave the way for more money to be pushed into film industries outside of Hollywood.