BR: Stalingrad (2003)

January 16, 2016 | By


Stalingrad2003Film: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Synapse Films

Region: A, B, C

Released:  December 8, 2015

Genre:  Documentary / WWII

Synopsis: Vivid 3-part documentary on the 1942-1943 Battle of Stalingrad which signaled the end of Nazi victories and the inevitable demise of the Third Reich.

Special Features:  English language dubbed version featuring footage not seen in the original broadcast / Deleted interview segments in German with English Subtitles / Video interview with professor and historian Dr. Guido Knopp / Video Montage: “Stalingrad Today.”




The story of the Nazis’ attempt to claim and flatten the city of Stalingrad and make its deepest foray into Soviet Russia had been chronicled in several dramatic films – notably in 1949 and 1993 – but this 2003 German 165 minute documentary series marked the first time survivors of the battle, which claimed 200,000 Germans and more than 500,000 Russian soldiers and civilians between August of 1942 and February of 1943, were recorded on film in frank, intimate detail, preserving the insanity of war and its horrific effects on those who survived with brutal memories of struggle, survival, betrayal, human suffering, and grisly death.

Directors Sebastian Dehnhardt, Christian Deick, and Jorg Muller tackled episodes which divide the battle into three distinct phases: “The Attack,” in which Hitler sends the 6th Army under General Paulus to flatten the industrial city on the River Volga; “The Kessel” (The Kettle), where the Red Army surrounds the Germans and slowly tightens a noose which cuts off any means of mass escape; and “The Doom,” where the Germans are written off by Hitler as sacrificial lambs for what some characterize as a battle between two dictatorial giants determined to humiliate the other on a grand, bloody scale.

Paulus was tasked with bombing the industrial and munitions factories within Stalingrad, but the symbolism sought by Hitler was starkly obvious: what better way to instill fear in Russians than claim and destroy Stalin’s namesake metropolis, and make it an example of what lay ahead in what was naively expected to be a short, seasonal strategic victory.

The German soldiers were dressed and equipped with uniforms and gear that was soon bettered by -20 degree Russian winter, and as Hitler refused to recall, if not rescue, the 6th Army, the results were a horrific in every area: food went from rations to animals to cannibalism; medical supplies were non-existent, resulting in outrageous degrees of suffering and neglect; and city inhabitants were slowly starved, as they hid out in bunkers, burrows, and sewers.

The 6th Army was ultimately propagandized by the Nazis from a safeguarding force to noble fallen comrades, but the reality was an army abandoned by its head of state and commander, perhaps using its inevitable submission under the Red Army as another propaganda tool to vilify the Russians and drum up renewed fervor to defend the Nazi state’s interests at home and where it remained abroad.

When the battle end finally arrived, the surviving Germans were marched to prison camps, of which 5,000 from an estimated 91,000 captured survived. The final Russian casualties reached above 1.1 million, making Stalingrad a woefully notable bloodbath for soldiers and civilians.

Broadcast simultaneously in Germany and Russia, Stalingrad presents a mix of survivors from both sides, contextualizing the before, during, and after of the battle of both the city of Stalingrad (later renamed Volgograd) and how the battle affected their postwar lives.

In a bonus interview, historian Dr. Guido Knopp articulates the genesis of the documentary series, and details some of the newly discovered data discovered in the Russian archives, including Hitler’s plan / desire to eradicate all males in the city.

A collection of deleted interviews adds a few more testimonies of the madness, and a short montage on present day Volgograd contains more striking, haunting footage by the series’ exceptional cinematographers set to Enjott Schneider’s moving main theme.

Synapse’s beautiful Blu-ray sports a fine transfer of the series which reportedly contains additional footage not included in the shorter broadcast versions. Alongside a multitude of interviews are rare colour and B&W footage and stills, and the Germans and Russian testimonies are dubbed in English. (The deleted interview gallery features original German language with English subtitles.)

Stalingrad is a landmark series which chronicles how a city was almost laid to waste by a delusional madman, and as Knopp explains, a generation that uniquely and tragically experienced an arc of horror, spanning the Great Depression, war, the Holocaust, defeat, and rebuilding itself while haunted traumatic memories that for decades were kept under the table.

Aspects of Stalingrad have been dramatized in a variety of films, including the eponymous Russian productions from 1990, 1993, and 2013; the Soviet film Goryachiy sneg / The Hot Snow (1972) and Stalinist propaganda epic Stalingradskaja bitwa / The Battle of Stalingrad (1949); the American film Enemy at the Gates (2001); and the German film Hunde, wolt irh ewig leben / Battle Inferno (1959).



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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