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Eclipse Series 11: Larisa Shepitko (Wings / The Ascent) (The Criterion Collection)
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The Ascent (1977), on the other hand, is claustrophobically terrestrial. Based on a novella by Vasili Bykov, it depicts two Soviet partisans, Sotnikov (Boris Plotnikov) and Rybak (Vladimir Gostyukhin), searching for food to feed their starving troop in German-occupied Belarus. This war film depicts horror through landscape, featuring long shots of frozen tundra and snowy forests. Well-known as a Christian allegory, The Ascent likens Sotnikov to Christ as he morally transcends corruption and cruelty inflicted upon himself and his partner by Russian Nazi-collaborator, Portnov (Anatoli Solonitsyn). Like Tarkovskys masterpiece, Andrei Rublev, The Ascent charts a characters path through a dark, dismal historical period. Set partially afield and partially in prison camp, it makes for brutal viewing that is nevertheless stunningly rewarding. It is wonderful to have a female auteur to add to the Russian cinematic canon, as Sheptiko brings to these hardened characters a sensitivity that could be construed as feminine. --Trinie Dalton
Top Customer Reviews
To put it blindly, this is their best looking transfer from an old Mosfilm print since they put out "Ivan's Childhood" a year or so ago (the early ones that Criterion put out, such as "Andrei Rublev" and "Cranes Are Flying", look terrible by comparison.)
As part of the dazzling 'THAW' generation of filmmakers (Tarkovsky, Parajanov, German, Klimov) that emerged post-Stalin, Larisa Shepitko is criminally unknown. All faced censorship problems, and viewed now, her films, especially "Wings", about a woman who often escapes the unhappiness of her drab life through her imaginative memory of the past, seems quite subversive. "The Ascent" is a WWII film, with Russian characters that are at times cowardly and cruel. The winter photography and windswept sound design emit a chill from every frame, and the movie is at times poetic and detached, as Elem Klimov's better known masterwork "Come and See..." (a sort of companion piece in some ways) is visceral and subjective.
But what makes these films most remarkable is Shepitko's distinctly feminine voice and fragile human sensiblity, often letting her camera focus and linger quietly on the suffered faces of her actors, conjuring strong emotional sympathy from the slightest gesture or close-up in the same way pre-feminist directors like Bergman and Mizoguchi do (a true anamoly in the restrictive climate of the USSR). Shepitko's style is more hidden, subtle, we don't get much in the way of long/slow tracking shots, experimental editing or pretentious auteurism like many of her contemporaries.Read more ›
And, although a masterpiece like this is greater than the sum of its parts, it is perhaps easier to comprehend why it stands so far above its peers by considering it in parts. To begin with, Shepitko's choice of black-and-white is not one of those self-consciously "arty" choices (as with, for instance, Woody Allen) -- instead, the color scheme serves a symbolic purpose. It also assists in making the snow-blind visuals all the more stark and compelling.
Second, the score, by Russo-German composer Alfred Schnittke is by turns bizarre and terrifying. During the "hallucination" sequences, we hear echoing clarinets and simmering percussion. The music for an execution is an incongruously jolly march, a satire of German military band music. At any rate, Shepitko uses Schnittke's music carefully, doling it out in dribs and drabs (like a cook seasoning a meal) until the very end, when she lets the score roil up to a harrowing climax. I have no reservation in proclaiming her use of music to be the best I have ever encountered in a film. Although Hitchcock's collaborations with Herrmann are fine stuff, here we have a composer of greater technique scoring a movie of greater profundity than any of Hitch's work.
Third, the actors' performances are uniform in their high quality, although particular mention must be made of the (name?) actor who plays Portnov, the turncoat investigator for the Nazis.Read more ›
"The Ascent" is one of the few films, along with perhaps Lean's 1948 version of "Oliver Twist" and Bergman's "Persona" which could be described as "perfect". By that I mean that it is a film where there is hardly one wasted shot, where every line of dialogue, gesture, piece of music and mise-en-scene is used with maximum impact. There are better films than "The Ascent", but hardly any others which hit their chosen marks as concisely as Shepitko's masterpiece.
"The Ascent" is also the bleakest of all films, with a final scene of personal suffering that surpasses the grimness of the finales of "Lola Montes" and "Strozsek" combined, and one that seems to reach out to the emptiness and vulnerability in all human beings. It also has, in Anatoly Solinitsyn's performance as the quisling interogator, perhaps the nearest cinema has ever got to portraying sheer evil in human form. It is a magnificent, tortured performance, to me one of the greatest in the history of cinema. (There was good reason that Solinitsyn was Tarkovsky's favourite actor.)
"The Ascent" will probably be forever known as a very "Russian" film, which means it is grim. It is also the greatest film ever made by a female director, as if that distinction matters. But it is better than that. It is a film that asks questions about the human soul while retaining its own soul, and all the time dissecting us with scalpel-like ruthlessness and precision.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Shepitko is truly a master. I wish her entire corpus were available in such a high quality rendering but I'm grateful to Criterion for once again reintroducing a forgotten master... Read morePublished 4 months ago by marmel
Great eclipse set, specially for begginers. Both films exemplify great artistry. All in all, this set is an eclipse experience you do not want to miss out, specially because it is... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Luis Jelenszky
Great box set at an affordable price! Key addition to the eclipse collection.Published 12 months ago by Luis Jelenszky
While both films are incredible, they are quite different from each other, and that is why this package is so wonderful. Read morePublished on April 19, 2013 by Christopher Thomas
My "Wings" haiku review
Life. Now? Headmistress.
"Soviet Hero - let's push!"
Can't go back? Perhaps.... Read more