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STALINGRAD(director/writer/cinematographer: Joseph Vilsmaier; screenwriters: Johannes M.M. Heide/Jürgen Büscher; cinematographers: Rolf Greim/Klaus Moderegger/Peter von Haller; editor: Hannes Nikel; music: Norbert Schneider; cast: Dominique Horwitz (Obergefreiter Fritz Reiser), Thomas Kretschmann (Lt. Hans von Witzland), Jochen Nickel (Unteroffizier Manfred Rohleder); Runtime: 138; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Hanno Huth/Günter Rohrbach; Strand Releasing; 1993-German, in German with English subtitles)
“Certainly efficiently accomplished as a war drama, but strangely enough not a moving experience.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Another anti-war film that depicts in gruesome details the horrors of war to make its point. It is directed and co-scripted by Joseph Vilsmaier (“The Harmonists”/”Marlene”). It is a gritty but bleak telling of how the frontlines of Stalingrad must have felt for those German forces fighting there in 1942. There were over one million lives lost during that campaign, considered the bloodiest ever.

Even though the battle scenes were impressive in their reconstruction, the film lacks the emotional punch needed to explain the human despair caused. Instead, it shoots for depicting all the German officers as unfeeling sadistic cads and the war itself as hell.

Of the over one hundred thousand German soldiers at Stalingrad, the most crucial battle of WWII, onlysix thousand men survived. As a result “Stalingrad” has come to mean for the Germans that they were overstretched and the heavy price they paid for the attack led to their end as the Allies assembled against Hitler.

“Stalingrad” follows the exploits of an elite small German detachment of Storm Trooper’s headed by Lieutenant Reiser (Horwitz) and features in detail two other soldiers Lt. von Witzland and Unteroffizier Rohleder (Kretschmann and Nickel). Shoved into the thick of the fighting in Russia, as both the war and the never ending winter drag on, the reasons for fighting become increasingly murky, and the violence becomes even more senseless. Eventually, only a few survive and the fight has gone out of them as they desperately try to stave off their despair, numbness and frozen state, not only by the weather but by the inflexible authoritative commands dictated by the German military. The soldiers are transformed from haughty victors into a sorry lot of demoralized cowards who will sell their dignity to survive.

It’s not a pretty picture, as it explores the “fog of war”, the mental suffering brought on by constantly waiting around in such harsh surroundings, the unwillingness of the defeated war leaders to accept losing, the decline in the soldiers’ morale, and their increasing suicidal tendencies affecting their sane judgment.

One of my problems with this war epic, was that there were only hints at getting to and ridding the Nazis of their war guilt. It seems to have written off the older generations and reserves, as its anti-war message is aimed at the younger generations to not to take war lightly–that there are bitter consequences to pay for going to war without a reason.

Certainly efficiently accomplished as a war drama, but strangely enough not a moving experience.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”