STALINGRAD recreates Hitler's most bitter military defeat, the nearly four-year siege that dominated the eastern front of WW II. A German production, the film depicts both the tenacity of the German army and its craven submission to the most fearful orders.
Directed by Joseph Vilsmaier, who also worked on the script with Johannes Heide and Jurgen Buscher, the film begins with a squad of German soldiers who are basking in the glow of their recent victories and traveling to the Russian front with their new lieutenant, Hans von Witzland (Thomas
Kretschmann). Their first glimpse of Stalingrad is a sobering experience. Worse than the huddled groups of tired, dirty, and wounded Germans is the brutal handling by the Field Police of Russian prisoners of war. When Witzland reprimands a guard, the lieutenant is manhandled, and his protest to
the police captain is greeted with a sneer.
The squad's first clash with the Russians is a Pyrrhic victory: the carnage is dreadful, and Witzland arranges a temporary local truce to retrieve the wounded and the dead. In the melee, a young Russian finds himself among the Germans. Since he is no real threat, they treat him decently, as they
listen to Hitler's boastful speech on the radio. Within minutes, a shell crashes into the room and Witzland, the tough Sergeant Rollo Rohleder (Jochen Nickel), the squad cynic Fritz Reiser (Dominique Horwitz), and the latest replacement GeGe Muller (Sebastian Rudolf), fight their way out of a new
After another confrontation with the police captain, Witzland is stripped of his officer's epaulets and sent with his friends to a penal battalion that hunts for and defuses land mines in the snow. Offered reinstatement, they participate in a vicious battle, after which they are called upon to
execute so-called saboteurs, one of whom is the Russian boy they had once captured. Watched by the police captain, they obediently carry out orders. This event acts as a catalyst; the lieutenant, Geiger and GeGe attempt to find a way out of the Red Army's trap. Having wandered through the snow and
the devastation they eventually return to kill the detested police captain, but not before he has disclosed a cache of hoarded food. The men discover shelves full of bread, fuel and supplies, as well as a captured Red Army woman (Dana Vavrova), who had been tied up, tortured and raped. She speaks
perfect German and offers to help them escape the city. It is January 1943, the eve of the German Sixth Army's official surrender.
A war film made by Germans about their country's part in WW II, STALINGRAD emphasizes both the horrors of battle and the harsh discipline imposed on the ordinary German soldier. Troops straight from Africa via Italy and a proper Prussian officer are contrasted with the habitual war crimes
associated with the war in the east. Obedience was necessary for survival in an atmosphere where military justice meant the execution of about 2,500 soldiers annually, for infractions of military law and political crimes. Like the Wehrmacht, STALINGRAD takes the best tactical position and defends
it ably, but only by ignoring the wider causes and nature of the war itself.
Fabulously expensive by European standards, this film began life as a miniseries on German television and was compressed and re-edited for its brief theatrical run in the US. Director Vilsmaier doesn't miss a single cliche of post-Vietnam "anti-war" war movies, but the epic scale compensates for
the well-worn material. (Graphic violence, adult situations, nudity.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: STALINGRAD recreates Hitler's most bitter military defeat, the nearly four-year siege that dominated the eastern front of WW II. A German production, the film depicts both the tenacity of the German army and its craven submission to the most fearful orders… (more)