The Ascent | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

The Ascent 

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This 1976 Soviet film--the last one Larissa Shepitko completed before she died in a car crash at age 40--concerns Russian partisans struggling against German occupiers in the winter of 1942. The narrative centers on two fighters: one will do almost anything to save his life; the other endures brutal torture in silence. By telling much of the story in brooding close-ups (which caused some critics to refer to Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc), Shepitko focuses attention on character psychology. She is less concerned with judging--there would have been no question, for her intended audience, which actions were right--than with examining the consequences of the characters' moral choices; even the Germans' chief Russian collaborator is shown to have divided feelings. Though the uncompromising fighter is likened to Christ, Shepitko has said the reason for this comparison was "to choose the quickest road to reach the intelligence and hearts of all viewers." The film is less a spiritual tract than a relentlessly physical document: the snow, ice, and mud of Shepitko's landscapes are the primary characters in the story. Striking compositions--a close-up of a man on a sled shows the landscape moving behind his head--reveal her debt to her teacher Dovzhenko and emphasize the theme of survival by juxtaposing characters and land. Not particularly original stylistically, the film is emotionally effective nonetheless. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, September 14, 8:00, 443-3737.

--Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.

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