STALINGRAD , released in 1993, remains one of the most brutally honest depictions of war on film. A brief history of the facts behind this film have been well stated: 'The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in southwestern Russia. It took place between 17 July 1942 and 2 February 1943, and is often cited as the turning point of the war in Europe. The German offensive to take Stalingrad, the battle inside the city and the Soviet counter-offensive--which eventually trapped and destroyed the German 6th Army and other Axis forces around the city--was the first substantial German land defeat of the war. The battle involved more participants than any other on the Eastern Front, and was marked by its brutality and disregard for military and civilian casualties by both sides. It was amongst the bloodiest in the history of warfare, with the upper estimates of combined casualties coming to nearly two million.' The horror of this battle as written by Jürgen Büscher, Christoph Fromm, Johannes Heide, and director Joseph Vilsmaier manages to allow us to see the 'other side' of the German forces, those not committed to the Nazi hunger for world domination, but instead were simply men serving their required time in the army, hoping to return to their families.
The film opens with a prelude: German troops of the 6th Army are languishing in Italy after their successful mission in North Africa. They are soon assigned to attack a port in Russia - a place called Stalingrad - and off they go to what is perceived to be another quick victory. The unit is directed by Lt. Hans von Witzland (Thomas Kretschmann, in a role that should have won him every award possible, so fine is his performance): he is a man who appears more human than soldier and indeed when his troop arrives in Russian territory he is appalled by the treatment of Russian POWs by German officers, a response that places him in a negative light with the Nazis. But Witzland is assigned to take a Russian strong hold with the close help of his group of fellow soldiers (played with extraordinary humanity by Dominique Horwitz, Sebastian Rudolph, Oliver Broumis et al). For a moment in time they are successful heroes but their commitment to the war is rapidly and fully eroded by the slaughter around them and the orders from the heinous Nazi officers to treat the Russians with less than dignity. They are threatened with death by firing squad for their humanity in attempting to give aid to the Russians being constantly attacked and only released form their prisoner status when the war appears to be aimed toward loss. There are many very tender moments between the 6th army and the Russians trapped by the siege of Stalingrad and as the bitter winter sets in the battle-weary soldiers are dying, committing suicide or attempting to escape and find their way back home. The over two hour study of the cruelty of war ends with a solemn statement, both emotionally and visually and the Battle of Stalingrad, a victory of the Russians, shows the defeat of the minds (and lives) of the Germans.
The film is brave in its commitment to address the fact that the universal 'German image' of World War II is a negative one. This film focuses on individual ideals and the scarring that war, on both sides, leaves on the soldiers and people who survive it. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, June 10
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Grady Harp (gradyharp)
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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It's tempting to call this harrowing picture a World War II version ofAll Quiet on the Western Front: both films take the perspective of ordinary German soldiers at ground level.Stalingradsurveys the misery of the battle of Stalingrad, the winter siege that cost the lives of almost one and a half million people, Russian defenders and German invaders alike. Not unlike Spielberg's approach toSaving Private Ryan,German director Joseph Vilsmaier rarely steps outside the action to comment on the higher purpose of the war, assuming the audience is aware of the evil of the Nazi regime. Instead, we simply follow a group of soldiers as they endure a series of gut-wrenching episodes, events which have the tang of authenticity and horror. Vilsmaier has a taste for symbolism and surreal touches, which only add to the unsettling sense of insanity this movie conjures up so well.--Robert Horton