I wish I could put the Ukrainian title of the film in the header – they refer to the Ukrainian-language version of the film as “Indestructible” (Незламна), and I feel that’s a better representation of the movie than the Russian (and American-translated) title. There was no “Battle for Sevastopol” – there was a series of battles to defend that city which ultimately failed.
I’ll just put this out there right off the bat – there was a lot to enjoy about this film, but ultimately I was pretty disappointed with the final product. First, some interesting background I picked up during the before-and-after discussions during the symposium. This is the last joint Russian and Ukrainian enterprise, in terms of cinema, before the Russian invasion of Crimea and hostilities in eastern Ukraine. The movie was released in cinemas in both countries, in their own languages, shortly before things fell apart sharply between the two. The movie was very well received in both countries, although we are told that many elements in Ukraine feel it is a little too pro-Russian, whereas many in Russia feel it is far too pro-Ukrainian. You can’t please everyone.
Doc’s one of those people you can’t please all the time. This is a biographical depiction of the wartime years of Lyudmila (Lyuda) Pavlichenko, a Ukrainian-born Soviet sniper who, during World War 2, killed over 300 German soldiers. The movie is actually told from the point of view of Eleanor Roosevelt, who hosted Lyuda during a 1942 effort on the part of the Soviet Union to bring the Americans, still freshly ensconced in their first year of the war, to fight side-by-side with the Soviets instead of simply continuing the Lend-Lease Program. We see Lyuda shortly before the war, resolute and dedicated, showing the boys that she could compete with them in a shooting match at school. Her excellent performance (47 points out of a possible 50) is noticed by the local Commissar, and she is sent off to sniper school. When Nazi Germany attacks the Soviet Union from a number of fronts, Lyuda is fiercely determined to play her role. She is recognized almost immediately as not only a superb sniper, but also the daughter of a true hero from the Civil War – a military veteran who seems to have no time for the young woman, as he had always wanted a son. During the film, through flashbacks that are relayed from Mrs Roosevelt, we see Lyuda fighting in the Battle of Odessa and the failed defense of Sevastopol. There’s a lot to be amazed at regarding this young woman.
What didn’t Doc like about the movie? Plenty, unfortunately. The fact that a large percentage of the movie takes place in the US (Washington DC and Chicago) provides way too many opportunities for Russians and/or Ukrainians to play speaking parts of Americans, with insufficient money spent on dialogue coaches. The heavily-accented exchanges are almost, but not completely, covered by the Russian overdubbed for the benefit of Russian audiences. If you think Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery spoke Russian fluently in Firefox and The Hunt for Red October, then this won’t bother you as much as it did me.
Someone at some point of the production made a decision to inject modern music into the film during a battle sequence. Because up to that point we had been treated to music that was contemporary to that time, the sound of an electric guitar as a backdrop to sung entreaties to fight heroically was jarring and intrusive. Picture Charlton Heston’s Moses parting the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to flee the Egyptian Army, while Kenny Loggins sings “Out into the danger zone…” in the background. No. No no no.
Peppered throughout the film are elements meant to symbolize Lyuda’s home and her first love; rather than adding a level of poignancy through subtlety, the symbolism was heavy-handed and predictable. We won’t even mention the criminally unnecessary sex scene, thrown in for no obvious reason. My shoulders ache from all the shrugging.
Finally, there is a question of over-acting. Actually, it’s not a question at all, but an exclamation. Sometimes less is so much more.
We’re told that the making of the film was controversial and complicated, both structurally and ideologically – whose memory of the war are we seeing? A Russian point of view, or Ukrainian? Again, that problem is solved through the device of using Eleanor Roosevelt as our guide. It actually worked, though.
There’s plenty to like about this film. It’s disjointed, but can be entertaining for someone looking for a mindless way to cinematically pass the time. It’s just not Doc’s cup of tea. I’ll offer it a C rating, and just say hope your experience goes better than mine.