For Reel

The Ascent (1977)
August 8, 2012, 11:31 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Larisa Shepitko

A pair of Soviet partisans trek through blinding snow in search of food for their squad in The Ascent, Larisa Shepitko’s fourth and final feature film and the winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1977. The two men – Boris Plotnikov as the noble, stoic hero, and Vladimir Gostyukhin as the craven survivalist – are soon captured by a German patrol and find themselves under interrogation from a traitor played by Tarkovsky regular Anatoli Solonitsyn. In the final moments of the picture, an inconsequential observer shouts “Judas” at Gostyukhin, further accentuating the already overstated religious allegory that sees Plotnikov as the holy figure and Gostyukhin as his betrayer. To depict the nobility of suffering under these terms seems fairly tasteless – given the extraordinary causalities faced by the Soviet Union during World War II, one can’t help but feel that championing such atrocities as being somehow transcendental is completely wrong-headed. Though Shepitko ultimately allows the audience to feel some compassion for the Judas figure, he is too often reduced to a sniveling coward, vilifying a man who is in a position that should inherently allow for some moral leeway. Considering that her Wings is a masterpiece of restraint, it comes as a disappointment that Shepitko’s final feature is both exploitative and slight, with the simple-minded duality of the story amounting to very little in the end.

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