Monday, July 4, 2016

Battle for Sevastopol (orig. Битва за Севастополь - Bitva za Sevastopol) [2015]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing* listing* (G. King) - article about The Friendship between Lyudmila Pavlichenko and Eleanor Roosevelt (E. Rubashevska) review* (Yevgeny Ukhov) review* (L. Frolova) review*
Nezavicimaya Gazeta (N. Grigorieva) review* (M. Malyukov) review* (V. Gorbenko) review* (N. Kurganckaya) review* (D. Serebryanaya) review*
Vechernyaya Moskva (I. Nikolaev) review* (O. Zintsov) review*
Zavtra (A. Belokurova) review*

Woody Guthrie's song Miss Pavlichenko [YouTube] [Amzn]

Battle for Sevastopol (orig. Битва за Севастополь - Bitva za Sevastopol) [2015] [IMDb] []*[]* (directed and cowritten by Sergey Mokritskiy [IMDb] []*[]* along with Maksim Budarin [IMDb] []*, Maksim Dankevich [IMDb] []*, Leonid Korin [IMDb] []*[]* and Igor Olesov [IMDb] []*[]*) is a recent if somewhat _mistitled_ still RUSSIAN / UKRAINIAN _coproduced_ WORLD WAR II WAR FILM that serves as the second stop on my 2016 Russian Film Tour.

The film which was nominated (but did not win) two 2016 Nika Awards (Russia's closest equivalent to the Oscars) -- for Best Picture and Best Actress -- was noted by several of the Russian reviewers cited above as one of THREE World War II themed films that were released in close succession in Russia in the Spring of 2015 (the others being Batalon [2015] [IMDb] []*[]*[]* and The Dawns Here are Quiet... [2015] [IMDb] []*[]*[]* a remake of the classic Soviet Era WW II film ...The Dawns Here are Quiet [1972] [IMDb] []*[]*).

What was going on in Russia in the first half of 2015?  The country's attention was focused on events in the Ukraine: (1) the overthrow of Ukraine's notoriously corrupt (if elected, if  questionably so) pro-Russian government and replaced by a pro-Western leaning one (confirmed by a second election which, in turn, was never recognized by Russia), and (2) the subsequent conflicts in the primarily Russian speaking Donetz and Luhansk regions of the Ukraine (which border with Russia), Crimea (of which Sevastopol is its primary city / capital) having voted to break away (in a still controversial referendum) and join itself to the Russian Federation the year before.  So it's not altogether surprising that a fair amount of "war" / "patriotic" films would be coming out in Russia at the time.  What perhaps would be most interesting for Readers to note here is that these "patriotic releases" won _neither_ a lot of awards in Russia _nor_ a lot of popular acclaim among Russian viewers.  (Contrast this honestly with the wild popular acclaim (and especially on the part of the American Right) in the United States of American Sniper [2014])    

The current film, again arguably _mistitled_ (or _retitled_ to call attention to more current events...), tells the story Lyudmila Pavlichenko [wikip] (played excellently in the film by Yuliya Peresild [IMDb] []*[]*) an Ukrainian (Kiev) born Soviet sniper who killed 309 Fascist (German / Romanian) soldiers during the Sieges of Odessa and Sevastopol in 1941-42 and who upon being one of the few evacuated near the end of the latter siege was _sent to the United States_ as part of a Red Army "student" delegation to the United States to encourage support for the (unified) War Effort.

By this point a thoroughly hardened soldier, she apparently deeply impressed (if also worried / disconcerted) Eleanor Roosevelt [wikip] (played in the film by Joan Blackham [IMDb] []*[]*) who invited her to spend some time as a personal guest of hers at the White House.

FOLKS, this is honestly a QUITE FASCINATING FILM because it tries (like Eleanor Roosevelt) to understand this woman, who by the time she arrives in U.S. comes across as a thoroughly efficient killing machine that the American Press nicknamed "Lady Death."  How did she become that way?

Well, _even before the war_ she was a rather serious student / "product of the Soviet State."  Her father (played by Stanislav Boklan [IMDb] []*[]*) was an NKVD agent... (Incidently, the film portrays her as _not particularly liking him_  in good part because of his strictness). Yet, she had friends represented in the film by the the giggly boy-crazy Masha (played by Polina Pakhomova [IMDb] []*[]*) a fiance' named Boris Chopak (played in the film by Nikita Tarasov [IMDb] []*[]*) a soft-spoken doctor from Odessa, would have been fun in-laws (Jewish), parents of Boris (played by Vladimir Kononenko-Zadniprovky []*[]* and Lyubov Timoshevskaya []*[]* respectively) as well as two battlefield romances one with her sniper instructor Makarov (played by Oleg Vasilkov [IMDb] []*[]*) still defending Odessa and the second with another sniper Leonid Kichenko (played by Yevgeny Tsyganov [IMDb] []*[]*) while fighting in the defense of Sevastopol.  By the time she gets sent to the U.S. as part of the "young soviet" / "student" delegation EVERYONE OF THESE PEOPLE WERE DEAD.

And despite NO ONE being able to accuse her almost frightening single-minded determination to continue to "kill Fascists," IMHO one of the strongest / most honest aspects of the film was the portrayal of the (all but in the White House itself) ever-present "Political Commissar" (played by Gennadiy Chentsov [IMDb] []*[]*) accompanying the "student delegation" to the United States, there to keep EVERYBODY, including Lyudmila _in line_. 

So why did Lyudmila seem so driven / cold?  Well, honestly, how could she not be?

Younger western viewers may catch a fascinating (and IMHO _entirely appropriate_) aspect of the sound track in the film.  At various times, the film seems to employ (or certainly mimic) the most haunting strains of the soundtrack to the recent American-made young adult oriented dystopian series The Hunger Games [2012-2015].  I do think that the application was entirely appropriate (though perhaps also double-edged, as Russia would seem at least to an outsider like me to be as one of the most "capital vs the provinces" dominated societies in existence today...).

Still, I think that the current film would help Westerners better appreciate the horrors / sufferings of the 40s Russian / Soviet generation and hopefully help us to better understand, why Russia even today responds to various geopolitical situations the way that it does.

In any case, no could doubt that Lyudmila Pavlichenko [wikip] was one brave, capable and patriotic woman who suffered and overcame an enormous amount.

Excellent film.

* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser. 

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