St. Petersburg

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The Battle of Russia

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 18, 2015

It’s kind of a false division, but what if you were to pit entertainment against education, and have this film represent the better part? It’s no contest, overwhelmingly. This isn’t Hollywood rescuing and compromising dull information; it’s information rendered with the spirit it deserves, and producing the electricity native to it. It’s not often that you can say this, but blessings on the US War Department! They’re motivating an audience, and eventually an entire population. They’re propagandizing, even, of course. But in this case it’s progaganda in the very best sense.

Like the NFB/Stuart Legg films that precede and then accompany these Why We Fight pieces, emotion comes always and only after a proper and very detailed establishing of context. Facts, two parts worth, selected and ordered and interpreted, are way more exciting than show biz can ever be. First because they’re so much more important than frivolous escapism. Second because they’re so much more interesting! In the present instance our filmmakers even dispense with Great Men, in favour of acknowledging the Soviet collective. They’d reap the whirlwind for that seeming miscalculation, but in fact they are right, historically and morally. The right thing to do is to tell their story, not your cultural or ideological take on their story. And what a story! This feels like the Churchill museum, in London, and as follows. After the unspeakable hardship (not fully rendered, for modesty’s and decency’s sake) and incalculable loss of the Leningrad siege, and in the impossible stand at Stalingrad, this is that rare historical reduction, that rare historical simplicity. This was the most important thing happening in the whole world, and this was the whole world’s salvation. The result is so thrilling, and so moving.