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
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
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
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