BluRay/DVD Reviews

WINGS and ASCENT

By • Dec 12th, 2008 •

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WINGS

it’s the essence of one woman’s dreams, whether they concern her past, present or future. The story, which is basically a cinematic portray of that woman, takes place in the early 60s in Russia. The lead character, Nadezhda Petrukhina, wonderfully played by a great Russian actress, Maya Bulgakova, used to be a pilot during World War II, but at the present time she’s a headmistress of a trade school. She is also a town’s deputy and a well-known and respected persona. And though her life is quite eventful (membership in various boards and committees, concerns about her daughter, day-to-day troubles at her school), to Nadezhda it seems empty, lacking in the significance, meaning and freedom that it was filled with during the years of war.

It is a quite common phenomenon when the heroes that survived war can’t find themselves in the ordinary time of peace. When the glorious fight for freedom, justice, for whatever it is, stops. When the importance of survival, from being crucial, becomes essential only to a small group of people, if not just for yourself. When your actions switch from meaningful deeds to maintaining a random existence. Something changes within: your heart sinks and doesn’t beat with the same frequency, your emotions feel dull and your mind, absorbed with justifications of why you’re still alive, doesn’t produce any thoughts worthy of thinking.

That’s the story. It’s said very simply, in black and white, which makes it transparently clear and strong. The absence of cinematographic tricks or a dramatic abundance of graphic war scenes helps focus attention only on Nadezhda. And that is the red thread of Shepitko’s genius.

ASCENT (1977)

I remember when the novella “Sotnikov” by Vasili Bykov on which the script is based, was published in Russia. We, schoolchildren, were passionately discussing what traits of character to develop, who to be – a person that is willing to die for their principles and others, or a human being who does everything and anything for his/her survival.

The story takes place in occupied-by-Germans Byelorussia, during one of the winters of World War II. Two partisans – Sotnikov, a former teacher, and peasant Rybak – go to the nearby village in search of food supplies for their group, which is separated from the main partisan’s camp. They get caught by the Nazis and are to be executed, along with an elderly man, a mother of three that the soldiers happened to visit, and a young Jewish girl who didn’t want to say who was hiding her. During their last night spent in the dark cellar, Sotnikov decides to reveal who he is and die for everybody, while Rybak wants to ask Nazis for mercy in exchange for his services. And so it goes: the martyr dies, with everybody acknowledging his suffering as a deed, and the traitor lives, suffocated by what he’s done.

The film is black and white. The overwhelming whiteness of snow creates a background of almost unbearable light, which elevates the local tale to a height of biblical proportions. And the parallels are obvious – Sotnikov to Jesus Christ and Rybak to Judas.

It’s somewhat hurtful for me to read the lines implying that the artist’s consciousness was burdened by the task of making allusions comparing Nazi’s regime to Stalin’s dictatorship. At that time the truth about the latter was not revealed yet, but nearly every family residing in the Soviet Union had lost a loved one in that War, and were severely scarred by the truth of it. I think there is nothing hidden in this story and its execution.

Larisa Shepitko’s works are pure. Her contribution to the art of world cinema is small – she made only four films – but quite solid. It’s a pity that the life of a great artist was cut short (she died in a car accident, not even 40). At least she’s got her wings.

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