Friday, October 10, 2008

Voskhozhdeniye (Larisa Shepitko, 1977) aka The Ascent

The Ascent (Larisa Shepitko, 1977)
Rating: 9.5

"Barely two years after her greatest international triumph—winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for The Ascent—Ukrainian filmmaker Larisa Shepitko tragically died in an automobile accident. The Soviet cinema thus prematurely lost one of the major talents of its post-war generation, and the international film community was robbed of one of its emerging—and potentially most significant—creative lights."
—Rob Edelman

The Ascent
begins as a seemingly typical Eastern European film dealing with the hardships of war and the Soviet's struggle against the Nazis. It is comparable to the work of the other great Soviet masters, Tarkovsky, Parajanov, Eisenstein, Chukhrai, and Kalatozov, with it's unique compositions, brilliant cinematography, and beautiful snow covered woodland landscapes. I recall several surreal shots where the camera panned through tree-lines and another dream-like shot of a character surrounded by the pure white snow as if on a blank canvas. The plot centers around two soldiers, isolated from their squadron, who try to avoid, but are eventually captured by Nazis. For the most part the film is shot with a lot of very tight shots and close ups. The occasional wide shots capture how completely alone the men are; prisoners to their environment. Throughout the film both men are haunted by the thought of death, however their philosophies differ. Sotnikov prepares to shoot himself rather than be taken captive by the German soldiers, before he is rescued by Rybalk. Following this sequence Sotnikov remarks that he doesn't necessarily fear death, but rather the thought of dying alone in an open field like a dog, although it is a matter of getting used to the thought. Rybalk on the other hand, intends to survive at all costs, and daydreams about attempting to escape captivity only to be shot down. It becomes both a study of the human conscience as well as an overt transcendental Christian allegory, when Sotnikov offers to confess and take the blame in order to save the lives of the other four prisoners, which include an older gentleman, a young girl, and a mother of three children. Conversely Rybalk, takes on the role of Judas and the prisoners make their final ascent up a steep hill where their fate awaits.

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