Stalingrad has already enjoyed extraordinary box office success in its native Russia, in China, Poland and tempestuous Ukraine where the reactions must be interesting in terms of how sympathy for the beleaguered city of 1942 may be influenced by present-day grievances.
It is in fact Russia’s highest-grossing movie ever, earning $66 million since it opened last October, and grossing in excess of $11.5 million in China alone. Stalingrad is the first Russian movie to be made completely in 3D and the first Russian film to be released in IMAX format. This big shiny extravaganza also happens to be Russia’s official entry for Best Foreign Language film in the Academy Awards.
But after all that, Stalingrad is paltry fare. For what it’s worth, there are two basic love stories struggling for air at the heart of all the bombardment. German officer Kahn (Thomas Kretschmann) goes against the rules when he falls for a sultry young Russian, Masha (Yanina Studilina.)
Meanwhile, holding out in the strategic building that becomes the Germans’ eventual target are five Russian soldiers who befriend and protect the 19-year old Katya (Mariya Smolnikova.) Only one of them will win her hand.
The city has been used to hang a soppy love story on before, as in the rather desultory 2001 film, An Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law. A German language film, also called Stalingrad, appeared in 1993 and is apparently a fine piece of work.
In this 2013 version, the truncated interiors look melancholy and wistful rather than, well, wrecked, as if the makers had borrowed greedily from some Gothic horror movie set. A set dresser seems to have got his/her hands on the battered furniture and the beat-up piano, shook all that fine ash around and stuffed the wrecked rooms with period detail. Clearly nobody ever shouted “keep it simple” through a megaphone.
Consider yourself lucky if you are lulled into a catatonic state by the highly unimaginative spew of special effects and that eerie silvered or bronzed look on everything. The human interest - for what it is - is almost overwhelmed by all the noisy, video game-style technology, amounting to a soulless travesty of war.