The Ascent

The Ascent ★★★★½

“When we get to the farm house there will be plenty of food”.

I don’t know how the Russians do it. I have watched many Russian films and the only things in Russia that are plentiful are snow and despair.

THE ASCENT is set during WWII as the German army still have a stronghold on Western Russia. The story is about a small band of partisans that are in retreat, and have come to the end of their supplies. Two men out sent out to try and find shelter and sustenance. When they finally make it to the farmhouse that holds the promise of survival, they find that the Nazis have beaten them to it and burned it to the ground. From here they head into an occupied town and interact with some of the townspeople. Every person they encounter puts themselves in danger merely be speaking with them.

At the center of the film is a gun fight where one of the partisans appears to be certain of capture. So instead of being caught and tortured by the Nazi, he takes off his boot and preps his toe against the trigger of his rifle with the intent of killing himself if he is discovered. I remember thinking that he may be the luckiest person in this film. The environmental elements of endless snow and sub-zero conditions, along with the constant threat of Nazi invasion, made suicide seem desirable.

The men are captured and the along with various townspeople (a traitor, a mother stripped of her children, and a little girl in hiding) they are taken to an internment camp where they are interrogated. The German inspector is one part Nosferatu and one part Hans Landa. He is evil personified, but a fantastic character!

The film looks at nationalism, heroism, bravery, cowardice, compassion, ideology, and survival. It does so all in an artistic and dramatic way. The film is shot and structured gloriously in stark black and white. The settings and camerawork is luscious without being flashy or drawing attention to its self. It is a very modern film, and that must have made it far ahead of its time when it was released in 1977.

I find Russian cinema one of the most captivating and consistently astounding branches of film. I am very much looking forward into delving deeper into this regions films, regardless how bleak they are.

Andrew liked these reviews