The Star

Dir: Nikolai Lebedev
Star: Igor Petrenko, Artyom Semakin, Aleksei Panin, Aleksei Kravchenko

As part of the upcoming Project Kinski, I've been watching a lot of Klaus's Euro-war flicks from the seventies. While made in 2002, that's what this Russian entry in the genre feels like: a bunch of heroic young soldiers, taking on a dangerous mission against the Nazis. It's straightforward, to the point... And really rather dull, because it almost feels like someone filming for 100 minutes, the games of war you played as an eleven-year-old. Its focus is Lt. Travkin (Petrenko), one of only two survivors of his troop of scouts. They get some new blood, just in time to take on a mission behind enemy lines: the Nazis are planning an offensive, but the Soviet forces need to know the location and type of forces, information which can't be ascertained with certainty from the air. Fate throws a spanner in the works, when their radio communication is cut off. So, to feed the crucial information back to HQ, they're now going to need to raid a German facility and, hopefully, fend off the Third Reich long enough for them to send back their report.

It's all very square-jawed, two-fisted stuff. There's no interest in creating characters on either side; the Soviets are close to single-dimensional, and as for the Germans, they don't even reach that level of depth. On a couple of occasions, the Russians capture a German to interrogate them, but even this doesn't result in any meaningful interaction, and the two sides are back to being heroic and cannon-fodder respectively. While there's nods at some kind of love story, between Travkin and a radio-operator back at base, it's completely unconvincing, and doesn't go anywhere. On the plus side, Lebedev orchestrates the action scenes with plenty of energy, and also succeeds in ratcheting up the tension nicely on a number of occasions, as the group try to avoid detection, which would bring the full wrath of the enemy down on them. However, there's too much reliance on fortunate happenstance, and by the end, I didn't feel at all invested in the fate of anyone involved. This succeeds technically, yet fails emotionally.

[February 2014]

Russian into battle
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