on April 9, 2000
Before there was "Saving Private Ryan", the most graphic and visceral cinematic battlefield carnage was depicted in "Stalingrad". Ironically, the raw realism which drew rave reviews for SPR had elicited little more than horror and negativity for "Stalingrad". I'm not a sadistic guts'n'gore affictionado, but war is brutal and needs to be presented in an unsanitized manner. "Stalingrad" has been, and remains, my favorite war film. It is from the German producers of "Das Boot", and presents the point of view of the common Wehrmacht soldiers of Paulus' 6th Army, who were abandoned to freeze or be slaughtered in the bombed-out ruins of the city named for Stalin. Neither the Germans nor the Russians are portrayed as heroes or supermen in this film; there is only the desperation of fighters who are forbidden retreat. The anti-Nazi views of the producers are well-known, and occasionally a bit heavy-handed, but there is an admirable attempt to stick to realism. Even the Russians are presented accurately: from the presence of the female corpsman (yes, there were thousands of Russian women combatants at Stalingrad), to the playing of the phonograph song Temnaya Noch', to Stalin's cruel Edict that "there are no POW's -- only deserters". The tense ceasefires to allow tending of the wounded are also historically accurate, and are documented in various memoirs. The T-34 tank model depicted is, unfortunately, an anacronism. But the hand-to-hand fighting through the rubble of the buildings, streets, and sewers is realistic. As is the freezing Russian winter which sapped the energy and morale of the stranded Germans reduced to scurrying like rats and eating their own horses. From the cavalier attitudes of the would-be conquerers on the train to the desperation of the hordes of would-be escapees at the airport, this film takes us along with these German soldiers, allowing us to sympathize with their plight and even form a certain detached liking for them. The futility of their campaign haunts the poignant, sorrowful ending of the film (one can't call it a climax), as Russia Herself swallows her violators.
on June 18, 2001
Stalingrad precedes Saving Private Ryan as a visceral look at the horrors of war. Besieged by the Germans for months, the bitterly contested city looks appropriately as if it's been hit by an atomic bomb. The film relates not only how hard both the Germans and Russians fought over this city, but how the cruel Russian Winter exacerbated the situation and made the Germans' attempt futile.
The acting is very good in this film. We aren't meant to be sympathetic to the German soldiers. They are merely cogs in the Nazi war machine. Fallible characters who show both courage and cowardice in the process of the story. I found that it was best to watch the movie in its native German with English subtitles. You get a better feel for the emotional content of the words that are spoken, even if you are not fluent in the language.
The production values are excellent, as are the sets and costumes. This film, to my knowledge, is thoroughly convincing and makes you feel as if you've been drawn into the era to witness the terrible battle as it nears its conclusion. At the end, we see the beginnings of the terrible march to Siberia by German prisoners. Only five percent survived, but I'm sure the Russians would have been satisfied had none of them made the trip.
The only thing I might have wanted to see was a bit more of the perspective of the Russian troops, but I guess that might have made a long film a bit too long.
Truly an unforgiving and brutal anti-war film and not to be missed!
That was the question Job once asked himself in the Bible. If Job had been alive and on the eastern front in World War II he may have found the answer to his question - Stalingrad. The hellish battle of Stalingrad, as seen through the eyes of a small band of German soldiers, is the subject of director Joseph Vilsmaier's visually stunning and brutal film Stalingrad.
Stalingrad begins on the Italian coast where a German platoon enjoys leave after the Battle of El Alamein in North Africa. Recovering from wounds and enjoying wine and German women while sitting along a bright, sunny, beach the men are called to order. A new opportunity for glory awaits them in Russia. Next stop Stalingrad. We see the platoon boarding a train and entering a tunnel in Italy and exiting a tunnel into Russia. We see the platoon's new officer Lt. Witzland writing home to his wife. A stranger to battle, Witzland writes of the glories to come and of his hopes that he will prove himself to the battle-hardened men under his command. As we shall see, Witzland does indeed prove himself but not in the manner he could ever have predicted.
Witzland's baptism starts immediately upon disembarkation on the outskirts of Stalingrad. Horrified at the mistreatment of some Red Army prisoners he protests only to find himself knocked into the mud and sneered at by the powers that be. Word quickly spreads that this callow youth is a "friend of the Russians" and only his father's military background saves him.
The platoon is ordered to take a factory and the horror begins. Amidst flame throwers, horrible deaths and raw sewage all thoughts of romantic heroism evaporate and Witzland soon learns that survival is the one and only rational, if hopeless, goal one should take into war. Witzland's ultimate humanity never deserts him and, contrary to orders, tries to arrange a brief truce so that the Russians and Germans can gather their wounded. The truce is horribly boggled and the platoon's descent into hell continues in lock step with Stalingrad's descent into a frozen Russian winter. The platoon is arrested for trying to jump the line to get one of their men some medication and they find themselves doing duty as human mine sweepers.
The German army is soon encircled by a Red Army break out and despite the devastation they know is forthcoming the fanatics among them commit even greater horrors. As the men wait for a break through that never comes the excesses of the fanatics continues. The appearance of the men devolves along with the situation. The end, the apocalypse that awaits the trapped Germany army is inevitable; only 6,000 men out of more than 250,000 survived the battle or their imprisonment in the USSR. Witzland's final attempt to reclaim his humanity is a stunning one.
The above outline does not do justice to the power of Stalingrad. Although seen through a German lens that captures no small amount of the humanity of the common German foot soldier, it does not flinch from showing the horrors unleashed in the name of the German people, the Volk, and overseen by a series of true-believers for whom no act of violence is too sadistic or too meaningless. Portraying the differences between the typical German foot soldier and the S.S. for example is not new. However, Vilsmaier handles the distinction in an effective and (seemingly) realistic way that neither excuses the behavior nor tries to limit attribution of horrific acts to a small group of less than human soldiers. Brutality is omnipresent but that brutality renders the flashes of humanity evidenced by the platoon all the more stunning.
Stalingrad is a haunting film and one that will linger long after the final credits run.
on October 2, 1998
Long before Saving Private Ryan, Stalingrad was released in limited distribution in the United States. I was fortunate enough to see it then and was completely stunned, here was a WWII movie that was unlike any American WWII movie that I had ever seen. Stalingrad traces a German platoon from the beginning of the Stalingrad campaign to its cold, horrible end, and it is a measure of the talents of the actors, the directors and the writers of this film that you actually begin to empathize with the characters in the film, even though they are members of the Wehrmacht. The scenes of urban combat in the movie are horrific and claustrophobic, again inviting comparison with Saving Private Ryan (although it should be the other way around). American war movies about the Second World War, even ones such as Saving Private Ryan or Catch-22 which do not glorify the military or the war have a different sense than German war movies such as Stalingrad and Das Boot because, let's face it, we won WWII and as the saying goes, "the winners write history". I can't really put my finger on this more precisely but I will say that this is an excellent movie, hard to watch at times, but still an excellent movie. END
on November 10, 2002
I have read many reviews extremely critical of this movie. Some are warranted, many are not. One complaint is no depiction of Tiger tanks, which is a ludicrous one, considering the tank was not seen on the Eastern Front until the following summer!
Another complaint is about a German 37mm anti-tank gun knocking out Soviet Tanks. Another false one, considering the 37mm had no muzzle brake as depicted in the movie. It looks very much like a Pak36r or Pak40 75mm gun, which was very much capable of taking out Soviet 1942 T-34 Tanks. Be sure of your facts, before complaining. This movie is one of the best for authentic equipment. If you want to see fake, take a closer look at the Tiger tanks in Saving Private Ryan. Their suspension is far from WWII German.
Others complain of the lack of realism in the battle scenes. Who knows of battle realism? It is unfair to compare the effects with movies that were made ten years later. Today's movies simply have a greater technology to work with.
My biggest concern is viewing this movie with an American arrogance and bias. Not all good movies are "Made In America". Sure this movie has it's faults, but don't all? Remember to be fairly honest in a review, we must try to view it for the culture it was intended. Just because you don't "get it" doesn't mean it was cheesy. Watch the movie and make your own judgement. Don't let the ramblings of those here, myself included, make a determination for you. Just have an open mind.
on February 18, 2002
When STALINGRAD was released in Germany in 1992 it was accompanied by a flood of books, magazines and modeling kits in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad. As with most German-made World War Two movies, this film focuses on the honorable actions of a small infantry unit rather than the Reich's broader political-stragetic designs. The film opens with a battalion of hardened infantrymen transfering from the relative comfort of Italy to the savage reality of the Steppes. From that point the focus narrows to a handful of German soldiers attempting to survive in world gone mad. Despite the German 6th Army's setback at Stalingrad, the German command continues to believe in its invincibility with resulting detrimental effect on the soldiers.
In terms of hardware the film assembled an impressive list of museum pieces including T-34 tanks, Czech-built Hanomag halftracks and a Junkers Ju-52 aircraft for the production. Indeed, the Ju-52 retained its winter camouflage after the filming and made the rounds at air shows.
STALINGRAD does not have much in the way of an impressive soundtrack. Additionally the film drifts from its subject matter to a melancholy ending in the snow. STALINGRAD did not do very well in its limited US big screen release. The widescreen DVD is an improvement over the VHS tape. As other reviewers have recommended, it is best to see the film in German with English subtitles, though the subtitles leave out quite a bit of the dialogue.
Overall this film ranks highly with other war films. A viewer must take into account that this film was originally produced for a European audience. Traditionally foreign war films lack a distinct hero and happy endings are rare.
on June 29, 2005
I am referring to the previous entries which are in my opinion wrongful and incompetent. I think the intention of the director Joseph Vilsmaier was not to show a "gallant" and "heroic" war movie. If some people miss these gallant and heroic battle scenes during the last 50 minutes then I suggest rather watching Pearl Harbour, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies or any other Hollywood productions with a lacking historic background. Other than the previous author assumed, Stalingrad is no Hollywood but a German production. In my opinion the movie fully fulfils its purpose of an anti war movie and is based on an excellent research in German - Russian history. How can I know that? My Grandfather has been to Stalingrad he didn't want to see the movie because he was frightened that this will bring back all the bad memories. However, my grandfather told me a lot about the experiences he made in Russia and theses stories were neither gallant nor heroic, but cruel and frightening.
To sum it up: If you need some easy entertainments with some heroic good looking soldiers - rather watch Pearl Harbour!
on November 12, 1999
Stalingrad was released in Germany to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the momentous battle. The film was well attended in Germany, where emotions run deep on this event; many Germans still have connections to the half million men who died in the battle. Previously, the same film makers produced Das Boot, an excellent and award winning film that received limited distribution in the U.S. Stalingrad is not as good a film as Das Boot. Perhaps for this reason it was not given any significant distribution in the U.S. The film has a cliched storyline, and an anti-climatic ending. The characters seem to be a German version of every war character you've ever seen; the sadistic officer, the countryboy common soldier, etc, and the anti-war slant is familiar. And yet, the movie has a power that is hard to deny, and it is very rare to consider ordinary Germans as equal victims of Hitler as everyone else. In this movie you get the real sense that the average German soldier, though loyal to his country, was ashamed of his cause, and felt victimized by his circumstances. It's easy to see why this film was popular in Germany. And it is because the film dares to present us with another consideration of the people who got caught up in the war, in this case the Germans who became soldiers, that it's important. The footage is graphic, the battle scenes as good as any filmed, the story cliched but thought provoking - it's for these reasons I would recommend the film.
I'm an amateur WW2 historian, so this movie was a must see for me. I have always been fascinated by the battle of Stalingrad, and have always been disappointed by the dearth of movies on the subject. This offering not only gives a truly graphic view of the battle, but carries with it a somber message. No happy ending here.
The story centers on a company of German assault engineers who have been fighting in North Africa. After a furlough on the Mediterranean coast, they are redeployed to fight Russians on the eastern front, and find themselves thrust into the battle of Stalingrad. Even as seasoned veterans, they are unprepared for the horror that awaits them.
The protagonist is an idealistic young lieutenant seeking to earn the respect of his men. His introduction to the realities of Stalingrad is abrupt and harsh, and only goes downhill after the initial encounter.
The first half of the movie focuses on the factory fighting which so exemplified the larger battle. The scenes are gruesome and unspeakably violent, and so provide a glimpse into the brutality that was Stalingrad. The latter half of the movie deals with events following the Russian encirclement of November, 1942, and is truly a study in abject human misery.
I will not give away the ending for those who haven't seen it. I will say, though, that the emotional toll of this movie is akin to "Schindler's List." I first saw this on the big screen with a friend, and we both walked out of the theater in a slack-jawed daze. This is NOT your standard war movie, but it's definitely a great one.
on July 27, 2004
This moving German film on the decisive battle of Stalingrad is a stunning portryal of the abysmal defeat Germany's 6th Army suffered at the hands of Soviet forces in 1943. A battle that cost almost 2 million lives and acted as the turning point in WWII. Released before 'Saving Private Ryan', this film has some of the most visually moving and horrid war scenes I have ever seen.
The film's scenes and plot do an excellent job at portraying how the German army progressed from gleaming confidence to utter dissillusionment and despair in their campaign on the Eastern Front. Overjoyed at the German army's major victories in the Eastern Front, Hitler is convinced the he now has sufficient forces to crush the Red Army and take the oil fields to the South needed to fuel the German war machine while simultaneously cutting off Russia's main fuel supply. Maniacally deluded that victory is certain, Hitler commits the 6th and 4th Armies towards seizing the city. Under high attrition, the Germans drive the Soviets across the Volga but the arrival of Winter literally freezes any further offensive. Leaving Winter to faithfully fight the Great Patriotic War for Mother Russia as it did with Napoleon and his Grande Armee in 1812, the Soviets add to the suffering by launching an unexpected counter offensive in which a break is made against the Romanian army leading to a complete envelopment of the city and the 6th Army with the destruction of the 4th Panzer Army. Trapped, General Paulus is absurdedly promoted by Hitler to the rank of field marshall in hope that he would not break the record of no German field marshall having ever surrendered. Paulus and the 6th are then ordered to fight to the death and not to yield one meter to the Soviets. Abandoned by Hitler and any hope of relief, the 6th Army deteriorates into a motley of starving and frostbitten soldiers defending themselves mostly with booby traps and snipers while scavaging for scraps. Discarded as traitors by Hitler and told to fight to the end, the 6th Army that had started with over 190,000 men was reduced to only 90,000 soldiers who surrendered in January 1943: only 6000 of them returned alive from brutal Soviet captivity to tell their tale after the war. The film focuses on the lives and characters of a platoon and their experiences. Full of hope, pride, and arrogance as they leave Italy in the beginning, the audience sees the characters deteriorate into little more than frightened animals seeking safety from the wrath of the enemy and the unforgiving winter conditions. The movie has some distortions as to the common perceptions held by German soldiers as to their role in the Third Reich's army but this is to emphasize the issue of conscience, to present the characters as sympathetic, and to create plot tension. As is typical with many WWII movies, there is the stereotypical amoral Nazi hardline party member to act as a counterpoint. These narrative/cinematic techniques are not too obtrusive in this film though and don't erode the impact of the movie. This movie is far better than 'Enemy At The Gates' which covers the same battle. It's not innundated with cliche dialogue and stereotypical Hollywood portrayals of Soviets or Germans. The closing scene has to be the grimmest ending I have seen in any war film.
The film remains a sober drama and brings the full impact as to the horrible conditions German and Soviet soldiers fought under in that fateful battle that would be the turning point of WWII giving the initiative to the Allies for counter-offensive maneuvers. As with Napoleon's defeat to Tsar Alexander I, the German defeat at Stalingrad stands as one of the greatest catastrophic defeats suffered in military history. In terms of the cost of lives and human suffering, it is probably the worst of any in history along with the fall of Leningrad. So intensive was this battle that certain parts of the city never saw snow due to the massive artillery barrage launched by the soviets in the confined sector of the surrounded 6th Army. So horrid was the winter that even oil would freeze rendering firearms, artillery, and motor parts useless after prolonged exposure. So desperate were all involved that many were forced to cannibalism for survival. This movie portrays these morbid and pitiful conditions in perfect detail. This is definitely not a movie for children or the faint of heart but I strongly recommend this moving and realistic drama for those reasons.