The Ascent

The Ascent ★★★★★

Larisa Shepitko's final film is a haunting, brutal reflection on the horrors of war with striking religious symbolism on overt display, but also a dedication to harrowing realism.

The intention to portray Russian partisan soldier Sotnikov as an allegory of Christ is made so obvious that even the less attentive viewer will pick up on it and the film was almost banned because of its parabolic nature. Boris Plotnikov's gaunt complexion, halo-like radiance and haunting facial expressions make him one of cinemas most powerful martyrs, his journey of torment and suffering paralleling that of the similar experiences of Ivan in Ivan's Childhood and Flyora in Come and See.

The stark black and white cinematography captures the brutal winter and dire conditions of the partisans with a dangerous, pristine beauty. A morality tale of Christ and his betrayal by Judas plays out as the two soldiers are captured by Germans. One remains resolute in his dedication and willingness to die for the cause, the other becomes tempted and corrupted by the prospect of an immoral survival. The limits of the human spirit are tested, both the captured and captors experience the might and purity of the human spirit. The brilliant Anatoliy Solonitsyn's face is difficult to read in those final scenes but it is painfully clear that his soul is in the midst of tearing apart.

Its propagandised method of storytelling might be blunt force trauma and the religious symbolism overpowering but it never clouds the message and remains entirely succinct throughout. Soviet cinema continues to provide profoundness and insight, the fearless approach to portraying the harshness of reality is something Hollywood could never get away with.

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