Director: Karen Shakhnazarov
Writers: Alexsandra Borodyanskiy, Karen Shakhnazarov
Based on the novel 'The Tank Crew' by Ilya Boyashov
Producers: Galina Shadur, Karen Shakhnazarov
Cast: Alexsey Vertkov, Vitaliy Kishchenko, Valeriy Grishko, Dmitriy Bkovskiy-Romashov
Running time: 1hr 44mins
The opening scene is set in a battle field where Russian soldiers are attempting to recover tank parts from a previously lost battle. We pan across the injured and infirm and are shown the darker side of war. It seems this film has set itself the task of showing us some truths about the practice of war. Even if it's with the unrealistic saving of a man who's covered in 90 per cent, 3rd degree burns and within 3 days he appears to be physically healed. Though his mental state is still in question.
The basic premise: after surviving an attack from a mysterious German tank known as 'White Tiger', Red army sergeant Ivan Naydenov becomes completely obsessed with tracking it down and destroying it. We follow Ivan as he searches out the ghostly tank, all be it with the distrust of his superiors as Ivan is trapped in the cycle of war and cannot see a way out until he confronts his nemesis. Ivan says "...A dead man has no business among the living... " He is resigned to the battle field. His connection to a pre-war world vanished without the hope of re-engagement. His humanity lost. What I was conscious of was his notion that not only does every nation have its 'White Tiger' to tame/assimilate/destroy but isn't it the same with each of us? Don't we all have an antagonist that makes us question fundamental questions about ourselves and our beliefs! If you believe no, then another way at looking at this film is that of religion. It is a tank god talking to our protagonist and assisting him in seeking revenge on the 'White Tiger'. Reminiscent of Bush's claims to have been in communication with God and doing "...God's work..." in the Middle East. The propaganda of religious belief in the very human cost of war. Of course Bush isn't the only political leader to have acted out believing God was on their side.
This film scores almost very highly in every regard. It's politically charged, emotive, doesn't shy away from the horrors of war and is relatively well constructed. A lot has been said, negatively about the seriousness of the film. For me it wasn't problematic. I found it emotive and engaging. Humour would have been misplaced. It would have undermined this very serious, relevant issue. Stylistically Karen the director had optioned for more extended shots with far less inter-cutting within the scenes which I really enjoyed as it allows us to absorb the emotion of the film and the cat and mouse structure of the story is paced well but with only 2 battles within the text and for me the first was a little lacking in pace, power, emotion and tension and this is where the film started to lose its significance. I started to feel frustrated about the lack of engagement with the men inside the tank, our tank. I wanted a greater sense of who they were and we are offered very little. In fact we are told more and shown more emotion and subtext with the German Officers at a meal towards the end of the film. The significance of the frozen strawberries that the German field Marshal eats after signing the terms of complete and unconditional surrender, is actually taken from field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel's actual account just months before he was hung. This is a great touch and Ilya had obviously researched character.
The ending, without trying to give anything away left me with a rather sour taste. Not only are we taken out of the narrative but we are introduced to a character that is far too easy a target and he summarises the film, like a conclusion of an essay, which I felt was unnecessary. It also felt that this conclusion actually worked against the style of the film. After experiencing the subtle undercurrent of emotion with how the film was constructed (long drawn out shots, minimal dialogue, the grit of war) the dialogue at the end seemed to be completely out of place and character. The ending with Ivan is very haunting and has a ring of truth to it. War is constant and never ending. It is a living part of us constantly and its showdown is forever cast.
This film is worth watching as the lines between right and wrong, good and evil are blurred and the brutality of war and its victims are cast with warmth. I have read people drawing similarities with 'Moby Dick' by Herman Melville. I actually felt as if I was watching a comic book movie, with its good vs evil set up. The narrative of 'Moby Dick' is far too superior for this film and considering this is the film Russia had put up for Academy Awards, it really needed to have a greater sense of gravitas.