I got to see the widely publicized in the West movie "Enemy at the Gates", directed by Jean Jaques Annaud. After "Saving Private Ryan", which had left an overall good impression, I hoped that this Hollywood product would turn out to be on the same level. But contrary to my expectations... Well, let's start from the beginning.
From the first moments I was struck by the rosy, well-fed faces of the Russian soldiers going to the front. Of course, I understand that life in the West is nice and sweet, but where were the makeup artists? All Soviet soldiers wore brand new greatcoats. Throughout the entire movie I only saw well-fed, not to say fat, faces, and even Danilov's three day stubble (incidentally, why does he walk around unshaven in the army?) badly masks his well-groomed face. I think the director never even considered the fact that life on the Soviet homefront in 1942 wasn't sweet, McDonalds restaurants just weren't there, and sausages didn't get buttered. I was also amused about how people riding inside the freight rail cars were standing. I think the director has never even tried to imagine how it felt to ride in such a car, how it shakes you from side to side, and far from anyone would manage to stay on his feet.
Meanwhile, the train arrives at some station, all the civilians are unloaded, soldiers are herded inside, and... some men started locking the cars! That's right! It turns out that Soviet soldiers had to be padlocked. Why? I don't know. Probably, the director believes that our grandfathers fought only from fear, that if it was up to them, they would've ran away, and nobody would've been left to fight the valiant German army.
Meantime, the train arrives at the Stalingrad station, the padlocks are unlocked, and evil officers start dragging the soldiers out of the cars! And another political officer stands nearby (probably, the chief one, and a big boss above the other political officers), waves a red flag, and yells into a tin megaphone. I don't know how our Western comrades see this picture, but it sent me into a spasm of laughter. I haven't seen such a silly scene even in the comedy series "Fitil'" (Fuse). But speaking seriously, this is already an insult, and it's more serious than it could seem in the beginning. Russian soldiers are shown as dumb cattle, led by the evil devils-political officers. And incidentally, political officers were different. Sh*t can occur anywhere, not just among the political officers, that's why depicting them in such perverted manner looks extremely insulting. And that is exactly how they are depicted! I specifically made several screenshots so that you could see that people with the most disgusting faces were selected for the roles of political officers. I don't know, why Jaques Annaud feels personally slighted by the political officers, maybe they stole his money or a cow, but his bitter hatred for our grandfathers literally oozes from the screen!
The scene where the soldiers were unloaded from the train reminded me of a mass escape from a psychiatric hospital, but not the Red Army. I don't know, perhaps the US Army troops unload in just such a manner?
The scene of an attack. I was simply shocked by the fact that the attack began at the whistle of a mad officer! Who proposed this nonsense to the director? Or did he think really hard, and then couldn't come up with anything better? Probably it's what they call "artistic license". The attack itself follows the best traditions of the Western idea of how could the Russians attack. In other words - complete rubbish. Soldiers simply run as fast as they can at the machine guns, like a herd of cattle! Machine guns fire long bursts at them. This insulting stupidity, under the name of "Human Waves", was invented in the West during the times of the Cold War, and Jaques Annaud simply faithfully portrayed that fairy tale on the big screen.
An NKVD zagradotryad (blocking detachment) was depicted. I don't know if such detachments were at Stalingrad, probably they were. However, the thing is not that all. The thing is how they were portrayed. They started shooting at our retreating soldiers, and shot them all. After that, with doleful music in the background, mountains of our soldiers' corpses are shown. The message is clear: "These Russian zagradotryads shot probably more soldiers than the Germans! Only Russian barbarians could think of such a thing!" It's hard to argue against that. It's hard not because it is true, but because in order to refute it you would have to read a boring lecture on the number of losses. Meantime the viewer doesn't want boring facts, he wants spectacles, and the more violent the better! By the way, blocking detachments were widely used in the Ancient Rome! Also decimation (execution of every tenth soldiers) was made up not by the "Russian barbarians", but by the "civilized" West!
Let's return to the movie. There are three main characters: sniper Vasiliy Zaitsev, commissar Danilov, and a woman sniper. Why Danilov is a commissar throughout the entire movie is not clear, because the institute of commissars was abolished in the Red Army as early as 9 October 1942. Despite he introduced himself to Zaitsev as "politruk", Zaitsev stubbornly continues to call him commissar through the entire movie. I suspect that Annaud was simply unaware that "commissar" is not a post, but a military rank, and that it corresponds to Major (battalion commissar) or higher. While "politruk" corresponds to Senior Lieutenant. That's why calling a politruk a commissar is a gross error! "Overranking" in the Red Army considered as serious fault. By the way, I noticed some confusion in Danilov's rank. In the beginning of the movie he had three cubes - the rank of a politruk, and that's how he introduced himself to Zaitsev. However at some moments he suddenly had four cubes on his collar tabs! The Red Army simply didn't have such rank! Perhaps I confused "cubes" with "ties"? If so, Danilov suddenly "jumped over" three ranks up and became a regimental commissar! Still some sort of nonsense! Well, let's leave the commissar alone, it is excusable for Jean Jacues Annaud, as an incompetent dabbler, not to know such simple facts. But another thing is interesting, why everyone calls Zaitsev "Vassili", even his own grandfather?! Why didn't the director find out about the standard addresses of two Russians who are close relatives? Even if in the X-Files Mulder and Scully work together for years and still call each other only by their last names, and everyone thinks it's normal, in Russia this stands out like a white crow in a black flock! For example, I don't remember a single case when my Mom or Dad called me by my last name or even my full name -- Valeriy. But very often they called me by pet names. It would've been normal if the grandfather called his grandson "Vasen'ka", but the grandfather keeps hissing "Vassili!"
The boy Sasha plays a double game in the style of the best secret agents too intelligently for his age. Regular James Bond in his youth! What amused me was his clean, well-fed face and white teeth among the piles of corpses, the stink and dirt of Stalingrad, as well as walking around in his shorts with exposed legs in the city. The frosts had already started at that time! This reminds me of another Hollywood "masterpiece" with Kurt Russel, where he ran around dressed lightly and without headgear in a -50 C frost in the Antarctic. Apparently, Annaud can't even imagine what real winter is. That is a person making a movie about Russia doesn't have a clue about the subject matter.
I was literally shocked by Sahsha's mother, calmly and seriously discussing how it would be better for Sasha among the Germans than Russians! I've never encountered such idiocy before!
One of the dialogs between Danilov and Zaitsev was an unpleasant surprise, and again proved that Jaques Annaud is nothing but an incompetent dabbler. The subject was the fact that they had written about Zaitsev in a newspaper. Here's their dialog:
"I am now a star!" Vasiliy exclaims joyfully. "Yeah!" enthusiastically agrees Danilov. "It's great!" "Yes! Great!" "I'm famous!" "We are famous!" "Yeah!" "Great!"
And they started hugging. Ah, what a joy! "They are now famous and will have a lot of money" I said to myself. However, for some reason the everlasting "Western Dream" sounds very pathetic in the ruins of Stalingrad. Perhaps, because the Russians fought not for the sake of being mentioned in the newspaper and becoming famous, but for some other reasons? It remained a secret to Jaques Annaud.
Danilov's denunciation of Zatsev was really precious. Danilov accused Vasiliy Zaitsev of having a relationship with a Jewish girl! First of all, there weren't any repressions against Jews at that time, and this argument is not just silly, but dangerous for Danilov himself. The denouncer himself could get arrested and executed "within twenty-four hours" for inciting interethnic conflict during a wartime! Secondly, the face of Danilov himself looks far from Russian, indeed.
Another "scene" in Annaud's "best" tradition: an official celebration at Khruschev's. Actually, I recognized Khruschev only after he introduced himself while marching in front of a formation of moronic officers. And the celebration began with Zaitsev being surrounded by reporters. I wasn't surprised at all at the fact that Jaques Annaud has no idea how Soviet front reporters differ from the Western paparazzi! And then... then they showed a portrait of Stalin which simply horrified me! Something gloomy looked heavily from a huge portrait with the background in the color of blood and mourning. If any artist in the time of Stalin painted this "masterpiece", I think he wouldn't have lived to see the next sunrise. Khruschev led Zaitsev to that portrait with the words of praise to the Great and Mighty, and... I waited for them to immediately fall to their knees in front of that monstrous portrait! I would've done it for sure! Of course, I understand that this portrait was painted specifically to make even the "dumbest Yankee" (or dumbest Russian?) understand that Stalin was evil, but believe me, perversion of History is not the best way to prove that you're right.
A scene with Russian soldiers dancing after bloody street fighting made an oppressive impression on me. On top of that, the director couldn't find anything better than the melody of "Svetit mesiats, svetit yasnyy" (Moon is shining, moon is serene - this is a Russian ethnic song) for music! It looks as stupid as if the Americans after their heavy losses at the Ardennes started dancing rock'n'roll to the music of Elvis Presley! All those who fought at Stalingrad, both the Russians and Germans, written about total exhaustion, about how the things they wanted most in the world were: to eat and to sleep. Unfortunately these feelings are unknown to well-fed Jean Jaques Annaud, making insulting comics about the things which he doesn't understand at all.
A point of special pride for the Annaud are vehicles, but even here mistakes couldn't be avoided. Almost in the very beginning of the movie, a train bound for Stalingrad got an armored car attached with two turrets from T-34-85 tanks, from which stubs of some unknown guns were sticking out. Somewhere in the middle of the movie a panorama of ruined Stalingrad was shown. In the center stood a T-34-85 tank, which appeared eighteen months later than the events in the movie.
I also want to say a couple of "warm" words about the Soviet slogans. Yes, all slogans are quite dumb, but I haven't ever seen such idiotic slogans! Believe me, I know many of them, like any other person that lived in the country of "victorious" Socialism! There are many stupid slogans in the movie, but the most common one - "Everything for the Front, everything for Victory" - doesn't appear anywhere.
In a nutshell, what do I think of the movie? It can be described in two words: persistent antipathy. The movie lacks depth, it's flat as a table, and dumb as a door nail. It's not that the main characters are played horribly, but they reek of artificiality and provincial play-acting from a mile away. Both Zaitsev and Danilov seemed somehow not real, marionettes, made me feel neither sympathy nor antipathy. They didn't make me feel anything at all besides a purely sporting interest: what will happen to them later? The only thing I liked was the German sniper. I think the part of Major Koening was played brilliantly, there you had both the icy demeanor of a tiger, and a minimum of emotions. And purely on the surface it made me believe - yes, that is the Enemy! Although I heard from my German friends that they weren't happy with their hero.
Some might say: "Calm down! Go easy on the emotions! This movie is not for the Russians!" Unfortunately, I cannot agree with such interpretation. This movie is about the Russians, about our history, about our grandfathers. It cannot be "not for us" by definition. There is a movie called "Stalingrad", made by the Germans. The story - the sad fate of German soldiers. I didn't feel much compassion toward the protagonists while watching it, which is understandable: I cannot and do not want to sympathize men who were killing my ancestors. You could say that that movie is not for us, this is true. However, the problem is that the German "Stalingrad" is a lot more truthful and interesting that this completely fake hack job.
Maybe it is possible that Annaud blindly followed the Western public opinion of that war on the East? Would the Western audiences understand a movie like "V boy idut odni stariki" (Only Veterans are Going to Die) or "U tvoego poroga" (At Your Threshold)? I think there is no director's merit here either. This is true, they wouldn't understand "V boy idut odni stariki" in the West. Do you know why they woudln't? Because it would be the only movie of THAT kind in the West, and the rest - various "Enemies at the Gates" and other cheap fairy tales. And they will not understand our movies until the time they start making truthful movies about us.
Someone might say that Ozerov or Bondarchuk (Soviet-era movie makers) also made movies like that. No, not like that! Perhaps, Ozerov also had problems with tanks, but he didn't have problems with people. In his movies I see an interesting plot, shown with good (if not talented!) play acting by actors understanding who and why they were. Perhaps, you will be amused by the office files behind Khruschev (see screenshot). You might ask, why did I notice them? I'll tell you. I noticed them because there was nothing else to see on the screen! There was some gray bald dude walking in front of a formation of some idiots and carrying on about how that dude's soldiers (literally what he said) "fouled their pants from fear". To tell you the truth, I didn't give a damn about the problems of that dude and his pathetic soldiers. It was boring on the screen! Fifteen minutes after the start of the movie it became clear to me that I had nothing to say to my American friend who sent me this film as a gift saying "This is our best movie about your War". I felt only shame.
I remember how tears came to my eyes when watching "They Fought for the Motherland", an old black'n'white movie. It also had errors with equipment, and the plot wasn't all that involved. However for some reason I don't remember that, I remember the excellent roleplay by Burkov and Shukshin, Tikhonov and Nikulin (there are most talented Russian actors), and the individuals they played.
In conclusion, I would like to ask if the Westerns are in general capable of making movies "about us"? That is, movies without idiot Russians with disgusting unshaven mugs wearing fur hats (look at the "Armaggeddon" for example!). It turns out they can! Once they showed an American movie about Soviet infamous serial killer Chikotillo. During the first five minutes my wife and I were amused by the somewhat comical cast, and then... then we forgot that it's not "our" movie, that all the heroes speak English, and that the decorations barely resemble USSR. We completely forgot it and watched the movie with a lot of interest! Why? Because this movie was made without the stupid cliches of the Cold War, without the moronic ideas passed off as "artistic license". This movie was made simply and honestly, and even if it described the odious Socialism, it could be watched easily. While from Jaques Annaud we got... well, basically, what we got. I can only recommend this movie to those who like searching for a diamond in a pile of sh*t.