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The Ascent (1977)

Voskhozhdenie (original title)
| Drama, War | 1977 (Norway)
In a freezing cold World War II winter, two pro-Soviet partisans - Sotnikov and Rybak - head off to find food for themselves and their compatriots. They find a goat at the home of a German ... See full summary »

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Cast

Credited cast:
... Sotnikov
... Rybak
... Village elder
... Demchikha
... Basya
... Portnov, the Nazi interrogator
... Village elder's wife
... Stas'
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
... Boy wearing Budenovka (as Serezha Kanishchev)
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Storyline

In a freezing cold World War II winter, two pro-Soviet partisans - Sotnikov and Rybak - head off to find food for themselves and their compatriots. They find a goat at the home of a German Headman but their return to camp is interrupted when they are arrested by a Nazi patrol. Taken prisoner, Sotnikov stands true to his beliefs and refuses to answer any questions despite physical abuse and torture. Rybak on the other hand argues that since they know nothing, they should simply tell them all that they know and do whatever they can to stay alive. One of them will live, but at a very heavy cost. Written by garykmcd

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Drama | War

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Mosfilm [rus]

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Release Date:

1977 (Norway)  »

Also Known As:

The Ascent  »

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1.37 : 1
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Trivia

Final film directed by Larisa Shepitko. See more »

Quotes

Sotnikov: [Imprisoned, Sotnikov and Rybak are arguing whether to speak with Germans or not] We're soldiers. Soldiers. Don't crawl in shit. You'll never wash it off.
Rybak: So then, to the grave - to feed the worms. Right?
Sotnikov: That's not the worst that could happen. No. That's not what I'm talking about. Now I understand. I understand. The important thing is to be true to yourself.
Rybak: Fool! You're a fool, Sotnikov. You graduated from the institute for nothing. I want to live! To live! To kill those bastards! Understand?...
[...]
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A Journey into the Soul
17 September 2008 | by See all my reviews

The Ascent (1977)

Larisa Shepitko is a name very few are familiar with. Her bright career as a director only lasted a single decade, ended abruptly by a tragic car accident. Despite her short career, she however managed to create some of the best Soviet films of her time. Her last film, The Ascent, is widely regarded as one of the finest Soviet films of the 1970s. Nevertheless, her work remained in obscurity throughout the years that followed, usually only available on rare and poor copies on video. That has now changed thanks to the folks at Criterion. They've released two of Shepitko's best works through their Eclipse department - Wings, and her penultimate masterpiece The Ascent.

Set during the darkest days of WWII in snowy rural Russia, two partisans trudge their way across the land in search of food after their party is attacked by Nazi patrols. They're originally only to go to a nearby farm, but when they arrive they find it razed by the Germans. Not wanting to return empty handed, they continue on deeper into enemy territory. Along the way they must confront not only enemy soldiers, but the harsh conditions of the Russian plains, potential betrayal and their own souls.

The movie does not fall into simplistic plot devices or destinations. It addresses difficult questions with painful rationality. It never takes the easy road or gives us comforting answers. The second half of the film is filled with moral dilemmas. Shepitko shows us the intimate horrors of war through the internal conflict between fellow Russians - those who collaborated and those who fought back. While she does show the collaborators as the clear heels, she nevertheless also shows why many turned to such tactics - survival.

The film contains a number of religious references, particularly to the lead up to the crucifixion. This is a spiritual journey, into the hearts, souls, and minds of the two partisans and those they encounter. Shepitko and her cinematographer capture the journey in beautiful black and white photography. The camera moves in long shots, similar to the camera-work of another of Russia's greatest filmmakers, Andrei Tarkovsky. Shepitko, like many others, was clearly influenced by Tarkovsky's style, and the Ascent takes some of its rhythmic notes from Ivan's Childhood. It is a stunning film to look at, and does a fantastic job of capturing the cold and terrifying atmosphere of occupied Russia.

Shepitko's husband would pay homage to her great film a decade later. Elem Klimov made his own war masterpiece with one of the greatest films I've ever seen - Come and See. The story and themes of that film were clearly influenced by The Ascent. Though that film is also a fairly obscure one, it received far more attention that any of Shepitko's films. That however acted as a bridge to Shepitko, and has been one of the best helps to keeping her work alive.

The Ascent is a truly magnificent film, and rightly should be considered one of the best films of the 70s. It's stunning cinematography is inspiring; its mood is frighteningly authentic; and its lessons are unforgettable. It is, in any definition of the word, nothing less than a masterpiece. How unfortunate that Shepitko's career was cut short just as it was hitting its peak.


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