Category Archives: Russian Movies

Panfilov’s 28 (2016)

I usually prefer to talk about the a film, what’s on the screen and not about what’s going and what’s being said around it, but I’ll make a slight exception.

Russia churns out a lot of war films and a lot of films with patriotism as the key (sometimes only) ingredient. There is an understandable fatigue of these films (just like some are tired of comic book or superhero films) so people are now giving low scores to any war film, regardless of its merits.

Russia also has a lot of people that love to see Russian films fail. Russia produces a lot of trash and cash-grab (popsa) films so you have people that call everything that comes from Russia as popsa and want to see it fail.

No, this film is not a box office failure nor a financial failure. Yes, the budget is underreported, (which is strange considering people want to see bigger budget films) but it seems to have made its money back already. One cannot compare it to American films with bigger budgets, star power, the advantage of English, etc.

Without going into spoilers, this film is about a battle, or series of battles, between a Nazi Germany Panzer division and Soviet (Russian and Kazakh) defensive positions. If you want a love story, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you want a superhero, you’ve come to the wrong place. Rambo doing it all by himself, taking down the Wehrmacht and killing Hitler himself? Wrong place.

This film has been de-Sovietized, reducing references to Stalin, red flags, Marxism, Communism, etc. People seem to take issue with that and feel that this point makes this film a 1/10 film.

The fact is defending a trench is defending a trench. It makes no difference if one does it for the union of republics (USSR) or for a particular republic (RSFSR). In this case, the soldiers were defending (the road to) Moscow and it was not inaccurate that they were defending Russia. Yugoslav WW2 films also have people talking about taking/defending particular regions (Slavonia, Vojvodina, Kosovo, Serbia, etc.) and that does not necessarily mean they denied the existence of Yugoslavia.

Not that this film has not been de-Sovietized. It has, but it’s not such a big deal. People still referred to each other as comrade, and yes, there were not a lot of flags and hammer-and- sickle stuff, but this was an undersupplied unit, lacking both men, guns, ammo and supplies.

The production values are quite high and this film lacks the TV-cheesiness of many Russian films and shows.

The Russians are not presented as good people, nor are the Nazis presented as evil. There is no need for that. We know who’s who. This was like two boxers in the ring – “this is where we are now. Let’s settle this.”

It’s dark, without being gloomy and depressing. It’s violent without being disgusting.

It has professional acting, professional camera work, professional lighting, sound and CGI.

The script is not very deep because this is a film about men defending a trench. It sets out to do one thing and does it very, very well.

Review by charmaments

Why Don’t You Just Die! (2018)

Saw this at the Leiden International film festival 2019 (LIFF.nl). Revenge on revenge, and lots of greed, the sum of it spiraling out of control. It all happens within a single apartment, with only a few outdoor scenes in the form of flashbacks. We are “lucky” (mind the quotes) that all the unpleasant things that people do to each other, are accompanied by an unusual musical score, not exactly the kind we would expect to go along with the ample gore we see. Surprisingly, it works as a welcome relief, keeping us at a safe distance from the nasty things happening. As usual, do not try any of this at home.

The story builds up in steps. It starts simple when Matiev rings Andrei’s doorbell, armed with a hammer, determined to act on the request of his girl friend annex Andrei’s daughter, to let him pay for abusing his daughter since she was eight years old. But things are not as simple as he and we thought. More and more people appear wanting revenge, not necessarily on the same person, eventually arriving at a complex maze of people who want others to suffer for their deeds in the past.

The story is well told and is clear throughout, despite its complexities. It keeps us interested while waiting for the next unexpected plot twist and subsequent surprising turn of event. The results on screen are not for the weak of heart, especially not for those fainting on the sight of blood. A remarkable thing is that the protagonists don’t die easily, proving to be more resilient than we assumed at first sight. And a seemingly clear-cut victim can as easily prove not-so-innocent, even becoming a determined killer later. Changing roles and turning tables is part of the game here.

All in all, be prepared to step over (metaphorically) loads of blood and gore. Just focus on the interesting complexities of the plot, bringing along many new ingredients and unexpected turns of events.

Review by JvH48

Battle for Sevastopol (2015)

Eleanor Roosevelt remembers the first time she met Lyudmila Pavlichenko, the female sniper with 309 kills, back in 1942 when she was member of the Russian delegation visiting the USA. Accepted at Kiev State University in 1937, Lyudmila was more eager to serve her nation on the front lines. A friendly shooting contest with her friends landed her the attention and recommendation of a Russian army rifle instructor. She was sent to a six-month weapons training. After the training she rejoined her friends Masha and Sonia who took her to an outing at the beach. There Sonia introduces Boris to her, while Masha hooks up with an airman Grishka. Soon the war was upon them and Lyudmila and Masha were pulled to the front lines in Odessa by 1940. Lyudmila served as a sniper. She was very good at it. Once she was able to shoot twice at the same spot at a tank’s armored glass, enabling her captain to kill the driver. The captain Makarov then ordered her to be a unit with him, alternating as shooter and spotter.

Eleanor Roosevelt also remembers that Lyudmila was a fluent English speaker and that everyone never see the woman in her but instead the Lady Death which she was named. Soon Lyudmila and Makarov entered into a relationship. But one day in battle, an explosion buried Lyudmila under the dirt and Makarov saved her. At the hospital the military doctor was Boris, and he saw how Makarov cared for Lyudmila. During this time, the army was ordered to abandon Odessa and retreat to Sevastopol. When she recovers, Lyudmila insisted at Boris to sign her recommendation letter so she could rejoin the fight. A fellow sniper gives Lyudmila Makarov’s rifle since he died. She rejoins the fight which is now about the defense of Sevastopol. She got a new superior, Captain Leonid Kitsenko. They became a very effective unit, sniping out enemy officers, radiomen, heavy gunners, and of course enemy snipers. The Germans even sent one of their best snipers, Otto von Singer to hunt Lyudmila, but she got to him first. Lyudmila entered into a relationship with Kitsenko.

Eleanor also remembers that she invited Lyudmila to live in the White House with her for some time, and they shared good times together. But Eleanor found Lyudmila cowering in fear over a loud noise. It’s because she had a trauma when she lost Kitsenko to a landmine exploding at them. She was injured badly from it and the Germans use the news as propaganda. But the Russian army rushed to her and insisted at her taking a photograph as counter propaganda. When she felt better, again she insisted at Boris to sign her papers. But Boris only left a note that she was unfit for military service and let her escape the city. Eleanor Roosevelt’s Moskow entourage says that Nikita Kruschev can wait while she visits her old friend Lyudmila Pavlichenko.

The story is quite nicely written, especially when we know that this is not a Hollywood based movie. The use of the back and forth story flow gives both acts of time lines of the story adequate significance to the movie as a whole. Yet again, as this is not a Hollywood based movie, I think it should be quite tolerable that there are some shortcomings within the movie.

The romance part seems lagging in places. Out of the two romances Lyudmila had with her comrades, both Makarov and Kitsenko received very little character development. The movie only focused on the mannerisms and physical depiction of the men. Yet there’s little to no background at all about these characters that would give the romance side more weight for the movie.

The character relationship are also quite imbalanced. It feels very strange that the movie didn’t give any more dramatization of Makarovand Kitsenko’s demise, and also Boris’s sacrifices for Lyudmila. It’s clear that the movie producers didn’t quite willing to take risks and alter real story a little bit to obtain the more dramatic effect.

The war side is depicted well enough, even though there’s not much to see. The movie mainly uses coloration play and camera zooms and movements to obtain the effect of a live war reporting footage. There’s less thrilling action in this movie, for it focuses more on the biographical story of Lyudmila. Although I quite like the tank shooting scene, which quite a feat if it’s done in the real world.

The acting overall is just a decent job in my opinion. Yuliya Peresild did well enough in portraying the inherent sniper’s cool in Lyudmila, even in her daily life. Evgeniy Tsyganov and Oleg Vasilkov did quite well in playing the love interests. Joan Blackham did nice in portraying Eleanor Roosevelt, her performance give the needed weight on the White House visit parts.

Sure this movie didn’t quite meet my expectations as to seeing something like Vasily Zaitsev’s story in Enemy at the Gates (2000). But the biographical side felt adequate enough in telling the story of one of Russia’s heroes. A score of 6 out of 10 is from me and a recommendation only goes out for those who really are curious about war stories.

Review by Seraphion

T-34 (2018)

I’ll give you another chance. You choose and prepare a Russian tank crew. On a designated day at the shooting range, you show your science, to my cadets. You won’t have ammunition. Just your skill. If you die … you die as a soldier on the battlefield.

I thought it was time again to watch a realistic WWII war movie. One that focuses on heroism and the urge to survive. A film where you almost can smell the war and experience the despair, as if you were in the middle of it. Not a movie that shows experimental creatures (like in “Overlord”) or Nazi Zombies. I have to admit that after seeing the trailer for “T-34” (yes, yes, I know I always claim to avoid trailers), I was very curious about this film. The trailer looked phenomenal. And I wanted to see if the entire film was peppered with such spectacular images. Or was the trailer again a summary of the best phases of the film? Believe me. The film is unparalleled from start to finish and keeps you glued to your screen.

When it comes to Russian-made films, I need to confess that I don’t know much about that. To be honest, my knowledge is limited to the clichés known about this enormous country. But in hindsight, I really have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by it. The film didn’t have such an old-fashioned and woolly appearance, but it looked highly qualitative with extremely perfect footage and solid acting. You could say this film has true Hollywood blockbuster allures.

The movie is about the T-34. A Soviet tank that was used en masse against the invasion by Germany in the former Soviet republic. This medium-sized tank, which was provided with thickened armor, was initially unable to cope with the better-made German panzers. However, they had one advantage: the large caterpillar tracks made them tactically very mobile and the infamous mud pools were no problem in the winter period, while the German armored brigades got stuck in it. So the film is a tribute to this legendary tank that helped defeat Nazi Germany.

If you like action-packed war films and want to see how ruthless and cruel a tank battle can be, then you should definitely watch this film (but I am convinced there are other wonderful films that tackle this subject). The confrontations between German tank brigades and Russian lieutenant Nikolay Ivushkin (Alexander Petrov) and his crew are ultra-realistic and impressive. The close-up images in the T-34 with its limited movement space, are breathtaking and have a claustrophobic effect. You can feel the nerves rushing through your own body. Just as the crew, as they realize they can expect a fatal hit any time. You can almost smell the sweat of fear. And it’s the images that leave a huge impression. The slow-motion images of the all-destructive grenades going through steel and concrete, look really exquisite. It all has a very high PC game vibe and perhaps this technique was used a bit too much. But it was entertainment of the highest level.

But not only the tank battles impressed me. The part about Nikolay’s captivity in a German concentration camp was also excellent. The scene where the train, crammed with “Prisoners of War”, arrives at the concentration camp in the rain, I found impressive. The despair, despondency, and hopelessness were contained in that one image with the train where dead people fall out of the wagons, the moment the sliding doors open. It’s here that Nikolay is picked out by camp commander Klaus Jäger (Vinzenz Kiefer) to fix a captured T-34 and make it ready for battle with a crew chosen by Nikolay. The intention is that their Russian tank becomes a target during tank practices by the Germans. What Klaus Jäger doesn’t know is that they also found ammunition while removing the dead bodies. And that’s the impetus for Nikolay to escape during such an exercise and after that trying to reach Czech Slovakia.

When I was young I loved to play the board game “Tank Battle”. “T-34” reminded me of this repeatedly. Only the board game was a bit more peaceful compared to this movie. “T-34” is extremely ruthless and shows how heroism makes the impossible possible. And amidst this war violence, there’s even room for some romance between Nikolay and the Russian translator Anya (Irina Starshenbaum) whose privileges in the concentration camp are invaluable for Nikolay and his companions. I kept asking myself just one thing. What impact did such a grenade (that bounces off the armor) have on the crew in the tank? Is it the air pressure? Or the decibels? Because I can imagine that must be a lot of noise. As if you are sitting in a bronze clock and someone hits it with a heavy sledgehammer. It’s just a futile question about an otherwise excellent and impressive Russian film.

Review by peterp-450-298716