While some of the higher profile retrospectives are going on (MoMI’s Altman fest in Queens, Film Forum’s B-Noir double features, and BAM’s Sundance thing), possibly the most essential is continuing for one more week at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. Attendance is crucial for the uninitiated for “Farewell: A Tribute to Elem Klimov and Larisa Shepitko,” which honors the astonishing Soviet “Thaw” husband and wife filmmakers whose lives were cut short far too young. Too young, perhaps, to accrue the following they deserved outside of their respective countries. Certainly, Klimov’s final film, Come and See (1985), one of cinema’s most wrenching depictions of war’s brutality, specifically the Germans wreaking havoc on a small Byelorussian peasant village, all filtered through the mouth-agape perspective of a young boy, has its passionate fans (see both our recent piece on the film in our new Shock symposium on the main site, and the film itself, showing one more time on the big screen, Monday May 29: 1 & 6.)
But even after having seen Klimov’s horrific masterpiece a few times, I still wasn’t prepared for the experience of Shepitko’s 1978 Golden Bear winner, The Ascent. Beyond harrowing, this overwhelming journey towards both death and a certain spiritual realization (hence the double-pronged title) for a pair of Byelorussian Soviet soldiers evading and then captured by Nazi forces, The Ascent utilizes some of the most dazzling framing and subjective photography I’ve ever seen, creating unbearable tension, agony, and, finally, for one character at least, solace. If you’ve seen Come and See, you’ll notice that some of Klimov’s pummeling aural and visual techniques, with their guttural, primal direct audience address, seem to have originated here. At times unbearably emotional, Shepitko’s vision is thoroughly dread-inducing and utterly uncompromising, a series of intense dramatic crescendos culminating in a moment of despair so attenuated that it almost transforms into something like enlightenment. Shepitko died in a car accident at age 41, and thus The Ascent, which seemed to be heralding her international breakout, was unexpectedly her final film. You still have a chance to catch The Ascent (showing Friday, May 26: 4 & 8:45, and Monday, May 29: 3:45 & 8:45), as well as all of the other treasures in the series, which I will surely try to continue attending.