By Deepak Patel:
“Welcome to our grave.”
When stuck in the freezing cold of Stalingrad during World War 2, this is the statement of one German soldier. He says this with an utter nonchalance. Unfortunately, it was the terminal truth of the battle of Stalingrad. Figures vary, but we are told at the movie’s climax that during battle of ‘Stalingrad’, Germany’s sixth army was almost wiped out — with only 6,000 German soldiers returning to homeland out of 2,60,000 involved in the war. When combined, both the armies — Soviet and German — lost almost 2 million soldiers during this battle.
This movie is about only one battle, and we must know that this battle turned out to be a turning point, with Hitler’s downfall commencing henceforth. According to jewishvirtuallibrary.org : “The capture of Stalingrad was important to Hitler for two primary reasons. Firstly, it was a major industrial city on the Volga River – a vital transport route between the Caspian Sea and Northern Russia. Secondly, its capture would secure the left flank of the German armies as they advanced into the oil-rich Caucasus region – with a goal of cutting off fuel to Stalin’s war machine. The fact that the city bore the name of Hitler’s nemesis, Joseph Stalin, would have made its capture an ideological and propaganda coup.”
While watching Joseph Vilsmaier’s ‘Stalingrad’, one thing which hits us is the fact that this may be the most realistic portrayal of a war on-screen. Here, there is no heroism — a soldier is whining for his unpaid salary, one is shitting his pants, another having some kind of panic attack and most of them are worrying about someone in their family. These soldiers are humans, and they are shown as it is.
This German director has shown the most significant battle of WW2 from a German viewpoint. But in this movie, war is the villain — not Russians. These German soldiers just want to go back home as soon as possible, while Stalingrad is a hell hole for them — just grinding and swallowing them in its own desperation. They want to get out, they want this thing to end, but this industrial hub is crushing them slowly and methodically.
Cold and hunger is ubiquitous, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that these two are playing prominent supporting characters in this gritty war — or let us say anti war movie. Thus, in this movie, what is evident is the absence of will to fight the enemy, and cerebral dominance of the will to survive.
Ensemble cast, consisting of little-known German actors, has performed well according to the requirements — but the real hero of this movie is the director, whose focus on the topic and its treatment is remarkable, never once wavering, making this movie a viewer’s delight. Camerawork is excellent, with three cinematographers making the barren snow-filled lands and abandoned industrial port of Stalingrad look hauntingly beautiful.
Some movies can be defined and explained by their final shot. That final shot just remains with you. It just gets etched somewhere in your memory. In my humble opinion, this movie’s final shot is a cinematic achievement. It just remains there in your eyes, it explains everything.
This movie has its strengths. It is excellent. But it is worth watching even just for that final shot. You may understand the director’s explanation, or may not, but you will not be disappointed at all.