Saturday, 19 November 2011

Aleksei German Jr.: The Last Train - Последний поезд (2003)

Director: Aleksei German Ml.
Writer: Aleksei German Ml.
Stars: Aleksei Devotchenko, Oleg Fyodorov,Aleksandr Karpukhov

Awards :
Grand prix et Prix de la critique internationale au festival de Salonique, 2003
Mention spéciale au festival de Venise, 2003

In several interviews Aleksei German Jr. recalls how his grandmother, together with his mother (then a very young girl), was being deported from Ukraine to a concentration camp in Germany during World War II. Somewhere en route the train stopped in the middle of nowhere and an elderly German soldier unsealed the locked doors of their train car and told the passengers to flee. If there was one such forgotten and nameless, but decent, German soldier amongst the invaders, then there must have been one or two more. In effect, The Last Train pays homage to these men: decent, nameless, forgotten, and struggling with their individual powerlessness in the face of cataclysmic events. Pawel Fischbach ― an aging, overweight, and bespectacled military doctor who had served in World War I ― arrives in Ukraine on the last German train to make it through Soviet lines, moving against the tide of bodies. It is the bitterly cold winter of 1943, the exact midpoint of the Great Patriotic War when roles have been reversed and nothing is clear any longer: the invaders have become the besieged, soldiers have become invalids, advances have become retreats, frontlines have been erased. Fischbach makes his way to an isolated field hospital where he tries to minister to the wounded and dying. But when the hospital is about to be attacked by Soviet forces, an officer, who has remained at the hospital to look after one of his wounded men, throws Fischbach out into the killing frost and breaks his glasses. It is never certain whether this is an act of cruel mercy or merciless cruelty, but it condemns Fischbach and his companion, a skinny German mailman named Kreutzer, to wander without hope across an impassable landscape where it is impossible to identify or differentiate friend from foe. Their spatial disorientation becomes a visual marker of the ethical and moral chaos that has swallowed both of the warring sides. In this peculiar war movie, the only on-screen depiction of wartime actions occurs as the film moves towards closure: Fischbach and Kreutzer come across the dead and dying bodies of a group of Soviet partisans who had earlier spared their lives. These partisans had been massacred by a detachment of German soldiers, who in turn have been annihilated in revenge by a group of Soviet soldiers. Kreutzer collapses under a tree; Fischbach opens his umbrella, sits on a crate holding the hand of a dying woman-partisan, and freezes to death. ...

Aleksei Gherman junior’s film The Last Train premiered in Moscow in mid December during the film festival Stalker, which also awarded it the prize for the best film. However, its first screening had already taken place in the ‘controcorrente’ competition of the Venice Film Festival in September. The film, dealing with theme of war and shot in black and white, remained unnoticed by the press in the context of the Venice Film Festival (preoccupied almost exclusively with Zviagintsev’s The Return), although it was awarded a prize. In Moscow, it made rather a different impression, especially when set in the context of films dealing with human rights issues.

Gherman’s film is, in a sense, a response to his father’s war film 20 Days without War. Maybe this explains the oddity of a young, clearly talented director venturing on his debut film into the trodden territories of the war film, a theme that dominated Russian cinema in general, but had also been dealt with by his father. For Gherman Junior, however, war knows neither winners nor losers: instead of exploring the history of WWII, Gherman looks at the fate of two men who have failed to make the right choice (or a choice) at the right time. Therefore, they are now the victims of circumstances, of politics, of regimes – which they have or have not elected. Gherman’s concern is with people in particular circumstances, which are not their choice, and how they cope with these unwanted situations.

Gherman tells the story of a German military doctor. Not a soldier, but a doctor. A man who vowed to Hippocrates to help man rather than kill him. Doctor Fischbach (Pavel Romanov) had served in the First World War and seen its horrors, after which he decided to become a doctor. He has been sent to a military hospital at the front line. Although soldiers are being evacuated from there when he arrives, he decides to stay and do what he can: to help the injured. Yet there is nothing he can do. Only a fatally injured soldier remains behind with his commanding officer, who – apparently out of a sense of duty – chucks Fischbach out into a snowstorm. An act of cruelty or mercy? Fischbach is doomed to die: through the bullets of the advancing Russian army or through adverse weather conditions. Maybe the commanding officer wishes to give him and the – equally uninvolved in military affairs – postman Kreutzer (Petr Merkuriev), the chance of survival, should they be fit enough.

Reviewed by Birgit Beumers in KinoKultura

1 comment:

Luce leBeau said...

Best war movie I've ever seen. Nat available anywhere anymore.