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The Star (Zvezda) (2002)
26th May 07
During WW2 the Russian Army sent a special group named "Zvezda" to fight the Nazis in their backyard.
In life there are certain brands / places / gifts that mean quality. They deliver, they are the crème de la crème if you like. Say if money was no object and I wanted a sports car I’d go for a Bugatti Veyron. If I wanted to take my partner on a romantic holiday I’d go to the Taj Mahal (maybe not this one though!) Well, with films there are certain production companies that hit the right notes, and with Mosfilm they have a history of pedigree: Battleship Potemkin, I am Cuba, The Ascent and many, many others. So, with The Star, have they produced a Veyron, a DeLorean, a Sinclair C5 or a Tesco Value carrier bag?
The Star is a Russian war film set during the Second World War based on a book by Emmanuil Kazakevich (which was also the basis of another Mosfilm production of the same name in 1949) in which a group of soldiers set out to scout behind enenmy (German) lines. From the offset the film alludes to the beauty and the horror of war, with an opening shot of flares bursting on a sumptuous vista of woodland in the middle of the night juxtaposed with the subsequent brutal artillery barrage combined with the senseless maiming of soldiers, animal and civilians.
We are then introduced to the film's main characters through the eyes of the innocent Katya (Yekaterina Vulichenko), a humble female radio operator who falls for the main chiselled good looking, yet modest and shy, Lieutenant Travkin (played excellently by Igor Petrenko). The lads are in a bad shape, in fact there’s only two of them left from their last mission (Travkin and Sgt Mamochkin (Alexei Panin)), so they’re assigned a new bunch of squad mates; Privates Vorobyov (Artyom Semakin), Bykov (Anatoly Gushchin), Temdekov (Amadu Mamadakov) and Braznikov (Yuri Laguta). Sgt Anikanov (Alexi Kravchenko) also joins the bunch and he has a history with Travkin and Mamockin, yet this is just hinted at and never explained.
The scouts are assigned their mission - there’s news of some sort of troop build up behind enemy lines and our heroes are the ones to go out there, find out what is going on and radio in. Travkin is given the code name ‘Star’ and their HQ operator, who unsurprisingly is Katya, is their point of contact. Okay it’s a bit of a clichéd vehicle to maintain a love interest, however it does work in a haphazard way and retains a focus to the script.
As the guts of the film unfold, we are treated to an on-form, razor edge production. The young director Nikolai Lebedev paces the film to perfection, from expansive dramatically impressive classic air-strikes with minimal use of CGI to the majority of intense involving covert scenes, depicting the gritty risks of being behind enemy lines.
The ‘sneaking around’ scenes are further intensified by Yori Nevsky‘s (cinematographer) sharp use of close-ups from the German perspective. Using impersonal shots, lingering on their equipment and uniform, rather than their point of view, this works exceptionally well and I found myself immersed in hoping that the scouts weren’t seen and more engaged than my previous usual war flick viewing.
Furthermore in one scene there is an excellent use of the Sir Digby Chicken Caesar camera angle, for an intense chase, in fact probably a far better use of this angle than the Mitchell & Webb or any others could ever use. This complemented with the atmospheric and subtle score (by Alexei Rybnikov) and combined with the twisting plot, is to put it in plain and simple words, makes the film outstanding.
I really feel bound by not wanting to spoil any surprises in this film has in store to write anymore. All I can do is heap praises on the film. Admittedly I have seen a few war films in my time, from Storm Over the Nile, No Man’s Land, Das Boot, All Quiet on the Western Front to Escape to Victory. I’ve watched ones that glorify and ones that horrify (the later makes me pleased that I never decided to join the army, like my old man wanted me to), yet for me The Star is an extemporary production. The direction, the script, great all round performances from all the cast, beautiful cinematography and score and horrific effects have convinced me that The Star stands out as one of the best contemporary war films of late.
Sinclair C5? Save yourself for Hollywood, Mosfilm has managed to hit the spot once again, and gone and produced Veyron in red!