While Russia and Hollywood both want a piece of the other's box office pie, they are more likely to come out ahead by working together on big commercial projects than emerging indie pictures. One good example is rising actor-director Fedor Bondarchuk's $30 million "Stalingrad," which is Russia's official Oscar entry this year, and the country's first film produced entirely in 3-D.
What does it have going for it? Well, it's a 3-D epic romance set against a famous and pivotal World War II battle between the Russians and the Germans. August Diehl ("Inglourious Basterds") and Thomas Kretschmann ("Resident Evil") lead the international cast.
While in St. Petersburg in summer 2012 thanks to Russian sales agency Roskino, I got to tour to a wet and muddy movie set commandeered by Bondarchuk, who had starred in two of the Roskino selection, the commercial comedy "Spy" and the romance "Two Days." Charismatic and well-muscled, Bondarchuk seemed full of energy mid-way through a wearying fifteen-week shoot.
He welcomed his visitors into a tunnel full of Russian and German extras sporting various wounds who were waiting to be called, and took us through a strafed Russian apartment building demolished by gunfire and bombing, and across the muddy no-man's land to the German side, where a tank inside the first floor of the opposite building was aimed at the Russians across the way. The movie weaves several love stories through this intense, long-pitched stand-off between the Germans and Russians, including a Russian woman who is loved and protected by a group of five soldiers; when she has her child, they all become doting parents.
Bondarchuk is a photographer and music video director who has helmed two feature films, of which Afghanistan actioner "9th Company" was a global hit; this is his first time using the Red Camera in 3-D. An American stereographer was on hand advising the production on 3-D, while another man was marshaling the tens of gigabytes of storage necessary for two sets of data; the movie will also be converted to screen in IMAX, the first non-American production to do so. David Lynch composer Angelo Badalamenti ("Blue Velvet") composed the score.
The film was financed by a combination of Russia's Cinema Fund, foreign pre-sales and a loan from state-backed VTB Bank.
Here are some excerpts from the first set of reviews: