While Russia and Hollywood both want a piece of the other’s
box office pie, they are more likely to come out ahead by working together on
big commercial projects than emerging indie pictures. One good example is rising actor-director Fedor
Bondarchuk’s $30 million “Stalingrad,” which is Russia’s official Oscar entry this year, and the country’s first film produced entirely in 3-D.
What does it have going for it? Well, it’s a 3-D epic
romance set against a famous and pivotal World War II battle between the
Russians and the Germans. August Diehl (“Inglourious Basterds”) and
Thomas Kretschmann (“Resident Evil”) lead the international cast.
While in St. Petersburg in summer 2012 thanks to Russian sales agency Roskino, I got to tour to a wet and muddy movie set commandeered by Bondarchuk, who had starred
in two of the Roskino selection, the commercial comedy “Spy” and the
romance “Two Days.” Charismatic and well-muscled, Bondarchuk seemed
full of energy mid-way through a wearying fifteen-week shoot.
He welcomed his visitors into a tunnel full of Russian and
German extras sporting various wounds who were waiting to be called, and took us through a
strafed Russian apartment building demolished by gunfire and bombing, and
across the muddy no-man’s land to the German side, where a tank inside the
first floor of the opposite building was aimed at the Russians across the way. The movie weaves several love stories through this intense,
long-pitched stand-off between the Germans and Russians, including a Russian
woman who is loved and protected by a group of five soldiers; when she has her
child, they all become doting parents.
Bondarchuk is a photographer and music video
director who has helmed two feature films, of which Afghanistan actioner
“9th Company” was a global hit; this is his first time using the Red Camera
in 3-D. An American stereographer was on hand advising the production on 3-D, while another man was marshaling the tens of gigabytes of storage
necessary for two sets of data; the movie will also be converted to screen in
IMAX, the first non-American production to do so. David Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti
(“Blue Velvet”) composed the score.
The film was financed by a combination of
Russia’s Cinema Fund, foreign pre-sales and a loan from state-backed VTB Bank.
Here are some excerpts from the first set of reviews:
Fedor Bondachuk is hardly the first director to bring the
legendary battle of Stalingrad to the screen, one of the bloodiest
confrontations in World War II and a turning point in the war. Stalingrad 3D
is, however, the most ambitious production to tackle the subject. The first
Russian film to be entirely shot in 3D and released in the 3D IMAX format, it
is a strange cross-breed between an old-fashioned WW2 epic full of genre
clichés and a modern update whose meticulous historical recreation is
At least the characters in this patriotic love-in are mostly
believable, and the script does a decent job of getting us from one incendiary
battle scene to the next by focusing on the human costs of war in a densely
populated city. It’s a commercially clever product too, which with its
video-game nods, careful avoidance of a black-and-white, goodies and baddies
approach to the battle, pick n’ mix referencing of other genres from horror to
kung fu to Western, and worthy modern-day Tohoku earthquake narrative frame,
has been crafted to appeal to audiences outside Russia.