wed 17/07/2019

DVD: Battle for Sevastopol | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Battle for Sevastopol

DVD: Battle for Sevastopol

Impressive Russian World War II sniper story with international dimension

The sniper's special world: Yulia Peresild as Lyudmila Pavlichenko

The latest in a long tradition of Russian Second World War films, Sergei Mokritsky’s Battle for Sevastopol itself emerged out of conflict. Initiated as a "status" joint project between Russia and Ukraine well before relations between those two countries soured, production continued despite the rift that deepened between them. The film premiered in both on the same day in April 2015, earning considerable – and equal – box office success on both sides of a border riven by war.

It’s also that rare thing, a Russian-language mainstream film that has the potential to travel beyond its original market. The Soviet Great Patriotic War has generated any amount of patriotic cinema, but Battle for Sevastopol avoids most such accompanying fervour to focus on the life of its heroine, the real-life sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko (a remarkable role from Yulia Peresild), including the time in 1942 she spent abroad bolstering Allied, particularly American support for the Soviet war effort. The central relationship caught in the film is that which arose, in real life, between Pavlichenko and Eleanor Roosevelt (played by British actress Joan Blackham), including time when the Soviet war heroine stayed in the White House and received real emotional support from the older woman; Eleanor’s later visit to Moscow in 1957, when the two met again, provides the film’s framing device.

The texture here looks rich well beyond the film’s budget

Such unusual attention to the international strand of its story aside, Battle for Sevastopol plays off an otherwise conventional narrative arc, beginning with Pavlichenko’s pre-War adolescence in Kiev, including a complicated relationship with her father, and her emergence as an amateur markswoman; brief peacetime episodes in Odessa follow, introducing elements of the film’s romantic line. Pavlichenko’s first experience of war, and her growing fame as a sniper, came in the battle around that city which followed the 1941 Axis invasion, but the bulk of the film’s military action is centred around Sevastopol, culminating in Pavlichenko's being wounded there in June 1942 and withdrawn from conflict.

The big battle scenes make their mark, but Battle for Sevastopol stands out not so much for any special effects grandeur as for its concentration of smaller-scale combat, particularly the world of the sniper with its elements of psychological obsession. Director Mokritsky began his career as a cinematographer, and it shows in the sheer texture here, which looks rich well beyond the film’s budget, each scene, regardless of length, given a visual attention that occasionally seems almost too concentrated; there’s a nice score from Yevgen Galperin, though the appearance of two contemporary pop tracks towards the end of the action, something of a necessity for Russian mainstream fare, may come as a surprise to foreign audiences.

The American episodes work convincingly, both the closeness between Pavlichenko and Roosevelt, and the exposure of the young Soviet heroine to the press culminating in her call-to-arms: “Gentlemen, I am 25 years old and I have killed 309 fascist occupants by now. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?”

This DVD release comes without extras – a shame, given the amount of real-life archive out there both about Pavlichenko and the episodes of the war in which she was involved – and in the international, rather than Russian release version. Differences are minimal, though we lose Pavlichenko’s visit to Britain at the end of 1942, on that same international goodwill tour, where her main destination was war-ravaged Coventry. A fascinating short scene here makes up for that, showing her meeting Woody Guthrie in Chicago, the latter’s guitar inscribed with the slogan “This Machine Kills Fascists” (the image, pictured above left, very likely depicts that encounter), which resulted in Guthrie writing his “Miss Pavlichenko”, with its refrain “Fell by your gun”. A little-known episode of history, brought back to our attention in a film that does it justice.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Battle for Sevastopol

The central relationship caught in the film is that which arose, in real life, between Pavlichenko and Eleanor Roosevelt


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Does anyone know what the opera music is in ghe last scene of the movie 'battle of Sevastopol'?

If you watch the movie, you will hear music from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" between 1:06:04 and 1:06:30. Galgarin STOLE a short portion of "Voldemort's End." I think it is VERY IMPORTANT that we hold him RESPONSIBLE for that THEFT.

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