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.



Wings (1966)
August 8, 2012, 11:15 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Larisa Shepitko

Ukrainian born Larisa Shepitko was tragically killed in an automobile accident in 1979, cutting short an all-too-brief career that crescendoed in 1977 with her most well-known film, The Ascent. It was Wings, however, the first feature that she made after graduating the famed All-Union State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow, that perhaps best illustrated her full potential as a storyteller. Maya Bulgakova, rendered androgynously with pulled back hair and a finely-tailored suit, plays an ex-pilot who now serves as the headmistress of a provincial school. In the early-goings, Shepitko is intentionally evasive in describing the woman – she is tightly-wound, never breaking her stern, weary expression as she engages in a series of fairly mundane conversations. Through a series of flashbacks, however, Shepitko begins to explore what has made this woman who she is, and just as the audience begins to understand her, so to does she begin to become honest with herself. The reoccurring images of flight are both an image of liberation and suffocation – cramped as she seems in sterile buildings, her history holds tragedy along with the sense of freedom, and as such a full regression poses a threat to her continued well-being. Shepitko was a student of Alexander Dovzhenko, and it shows in an enchanting sun shower sequence – as Bulgakova holds grapes in the rain, one can’t help but consider the agricultural harmony so poetically evoked in the opening sequence of Earth.