THE ASCENT
VOSKHOZHDENIE
1977, Janus Films, 111 min, Soviet Union, Dir: Larisa Shepitko

Larisa Shepitko’s emotionally overwhelming final film won the Golden Bear at the 1977 Berlin Film Festival and has been hailed around the world as the finest Soviet film of its decade. Set during World War II’s darkest days, THE ASCENT follows the path of two peasant soldiers, cut off from their troop, who trudge through the snowy backwoods of Belarus seeking refuge among villagers. Their harrowing trek leads them on a journey of betrayal, heroism and ultimate transcendence.


OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR
1969, Paramount, 136 min, UK, Dir: Richard Attenborough

In this dazzling directorial debut from Richard Attenborough, a working class family is confronted with the unfathomable realities of World War I, after three brothers witness trench warfare first hand. This is no ordinary war film, however, as Attenborough injects humor, dazzling camera effects, and music into this otherwise stark reality. Thus by fusing the surreal with the factual, and juxtaposing savagely funny satire with quiet sorrow, Attenborough creates a powerful anti-war statement like no other. Based on the stage musical by the same name, OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR features a stellar cast that includes Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Mills, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Holm, Dirk Bogarde and Susannah York.


THE HUMAN CONDITION - A SOLDIER’S PRAYER
NINGEN NO JOKEN III
1961, Janus Films, 190 min, Japan, Dir: Masaki Kobayashi

As the Soviets overrun the disintegrating Japanese war machine, Tatsuya Nakadai and a comrade (Yusuke Kawazu) are overlooked. They try to make their way south, encountering a striking variety of refugees along the way. But Nakadai is eventually taken prisoner and shipped off to a Siberian P.O.W. camp. Upon arrival, he finds the most viciously unrepentant of the Japanese soldiers have been made trustees by their Soviet masters while the majority of the detainees are being systematically starved. At last, barely alive Nakadai escapes into a hellish frozen wasteland – but does ultimate salvation or oblivion await him? “Kobayashi views his characters with tremendous compassion and a grand, overall sense of historical irony. … By the unutterably tragic conclusion of Part III, in which the story of one man’s inevitable destruction seems to embody the demolition of all the 20th century’s most noble dreams, I was profoundly grateful … to have stuck with THE HUMAN CONDITION to the end.” – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com.


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