Film Review: The Fall of Berlin (Dir. Mikheil Chiaureli; 1950) – Distorted V-DAY War Film

Updated: Jun 5

Congratulations to Allied Victory over Nazis!

FILE PHOTO: The Fall of Berlin (1950) © Mosfilm

FILM AND REALITY


Take, for example, our historical and war films, as well as some literary works; they make you sick. Their true goal is to develop the theme of praising Stalin as a military genius. Let's remember the film "The Fall of Berlin." Only Stalin acts in it; he gives orders in a hall where there are many empty chairs and only one person approaches him and reports something - this is Poskrebyshev, his faithful squire. (Laughter in the hall). Where is the military command? Where Is The Politburo? Where is the government? What do they do and what do they do? There's nothing about it in the movie. Stalin acts for everyone; he does not reckon with anyone, does not ask for advice from anyone. Everything is presented to the people in this false light. Why? In order to surround Stalin with glory, contrary to facts and historical truth.

- Khrushchev (1)


I think that excessive demonization of Stalin is one of the ways to attack the Soviet Union and Russia, to show that the Russia of today has something originating from Stalinism. Well, of course we all have these birthmarks. What I’m saying is Russia has changed radically, but there is no going back to Stalinism, because the mentality of the people has changed. As to Stalin himself, he arrived in power with wonderful ideas that he was propounding. He was talking about the need for equality, fraternity, peace… but of course he turned into a dictator. I don’t think that in a situation like that anything else would have been possible. I’m referring to that situation in the world. Was it any better in Spain, or in Italy? Or in Germany? There are many countries where the government was based in tyranny.


But of course, this doesn’t mean that he was not capable of bringing together the people of the Soviet Union. He managed to organize resistance to fascism. And he even conformed himself to some of the decisions which were offered to him by his generals. This doesn’t mean, however, that we must forget all the atrocities Stalinism committed- the destruction of millions of our compatriots, the extermination camps. These things are not to be forgotten. And he is an ambiguous figure. I think at the end of his life he was in a very difficult position – a very different mental situation, I believe, but that requires an impartial study.

- Putin (2)


This ‘Victory Day’ war film is unquestionably Dir. Chiaureli Mikhail Edisherovich’s best film performance, and it is also overwhelmingly distorted as the significant example of excessive personal cult of Stalin in the Soviet Union. Before evaluating several critical viewpoints against decades of political bias against this Soviet ‘socialist realism’ masterpiece, readers should know that the different developing stages of the Soviet / Russia cinema were reflections of the different Soviet leaderships over art production. Officially, the 1st stage ‘Soviet documentaries (newsreels) and avant-garde (silent montage films)’is from November 7, 1917, to May 23, 1932; the second stage ‘Socialist Realism’ (technically, talkie / coloured pro-Soviet movies) is from May 23, 1932, to December 25, 1991. However, the latter could be further divided into Khrushchev-Brezhnev-Andropov-Chernenko era (1953-1985) which famously represented by Andrei Tarkovsky’s films and the Perestroika era (1985-1991) which marked with Hollywood co-production movies like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Red Heat (1988). Interestingly, ‘Socialist Realism’ had finally developed into ‘blockbuster’-oriented genre films like today’s China (Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior series). Apparently, the Soviet film strategy was correct because they actually produced numerous memorable film classics for world audiences.

For Chiaureli’s The Fall of Berlin (1950), it was unfairly distorted by the world critics. There are several critical points below:


1. This collectivist film has three protagonists, one is steelworker Alexei Ivanov; the second is Stalin; the third is the Soviet people as the collective subject. Three protagonists. The most important thing is that this film cannot be established without the major action line of the protagonist Alexei Ivanov. He is the main protagonist not Stalin at all.


2. Remember, this is not a capitalist production. It means that the central character/ hero is the working class. There is not just only the political leader. And their goal is to serve the Soviet state. Thus, theme of the socialist realism is patriotism. On the contrary, capitalist films depict purely individualist success stories which quite isolated from the broadest public interest. This is why there are so many individualist protagonists who purely seek personal revenge while it is just lynching others without legal procedures. Meanwhile, individualist realism is inevitably capitalist realism which abstractedly serves personal interest of elite individuals.


FILE PHOTO: Stalin in The Fall of Berlin (1950) © Mosfilm

3. On the contrary to dominant criticism, Stalin in this film does not dictate everything solely during the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). It is what actually happened between Stalin and his generals. This is the impartible essence of being realism. Those anti-Soviet film critics always depict Stalin as the Hitler in this film. In which, Hitler dictates everything during the military operations. Chiaureli obviously tried to make a sharp comparison between them.


4. There are three major action lines:


a. The ‘model labourer’ steelworker, Alexey Ivanov joins the Red Army to save his kidnapped-girl friend Natasha from Nazi’s concentrate camp.

b. Stalin unifies the entire Soviet Union apparatus to launch the offensive operation against Berlin.

c. The people of the Soviet Union fight the battle of Moscow, the Battle of Stalingrad, the storming of the Reichstag during the Great Patriotic War.


Each action line indicates that this is not any kind of individualist movie drama at all while the film depicts typical characteristics of typical circumstances optimistically or even ideally to produce social consciousness among workers. It does not encourage purely individualist personal enrichment like commercial films. From this point of view, so called star system is just personal cult. Movie / TV stars are making money by their own personal cult among their fans.


Why Stalin’s personal cult is not OK while commercial stars are making money out of their own personal cult in capitalist societies around the world? Obviously, this is the double standard of centuries. Unfairness to this film exactly originated from this double standard. For instance, personal cult of Michael Jackson is OK, but Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin’s personal cult is not OK? This is a bias.


5. Engels predicted in 1859 that socialist literature would possess profound conceptual and predictive abilities, as well as a perfected artistic form. He believed that realism “implies, besides truth of detail, the truthful reproduction of typical characters under typical circumstances.” (3)


Engels gave the classical definition of revolutionary art as collectivist realism. However, socialist realism as the specific Soviet art policy, it does not exist without the existence of the Soviet Union. This is a reason to laugh at radical anti-communist right-wing critics who excessively politized both theory and practice of art production.


FILM DATA


The two-hour film "The Fall of Berlin" was made for the fifth anniversary of the Victory. It seemed to the Party that people needed a faithful comprehension of the past war, as well as a colourful gift, because going to the movies was still considered a holiday. And on a holiday, it is customary to receive gifts.


Stalin loved movies. And in this case, he acted not only as a connoisseur, but also as a real producer. Approval of the actors and the script, the funding was decided personally by the leader of the people. And the film is about him. And, about the great Soviet people, embodied by the simple steelworker Alexei Ivanov (Boris Andreyev).


Ivanov sets a world record for steelmaking, and goes to a reception in the Kremlin, where he complains to Stalin in a friendly way that his girlfriend Natasha does not love him. And then the war begins, and the record player is sent to the front...


It is strange that the movie is called "The Fall of Berlin", because it talks not only about the final part of the war, but about all the most important moments of the Great Patriotic War: the battle of Moscow, the Battle of Stalingrad, the storming of the Reichstag is shown in large-scale pieces. Combat episodes with ordinary soldiers, interspersed with episodes where decisions are made by commanders of fronts. They are succeeded by scenes of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt ruling the fate of the world. Not too caricatured in the film and the image of Hitler.


Stalin, played by Mikhail Gelovani, is beautiful, majestic, reasonable, wise. This is emphasized even by his inner circle. Who are played by Nikolai Ryzhov, Alexei Gribov, Ruben Simonov, and Maxim Strauch - they are not named directly and one can only guess that some of them are Beria and others Molotov.


In 1949, Boris Andreyev met Stalin twice. Once in the movies, the other in reality. There, the actor's best friend reminded Boris Fyodorovich how at the beginning of the war he was sentenced to be shot. The usual scandal for an actor - he got drunk in a restaurant and punched someone in the face. Unfortunately, the victim turned out to be a general of NKVD. So, Stalin personally ordered Andreyev's release. In relation to the people in the person of Andreyev, Stalin went down in history as a kind and sympathetic man.


"The Fall of Berlin'' is a monument to the era. And monuments are erected for all to see, whatever they may be.(4)


USSR, Mosfilm, 1949, colour (Agfacolor), 1st series - 9 hours, 2308.m, 2nd series - 8 hours, 2273 m, 35mm, 1.37:1, monophonic.


Released on January 21, 1950, in Moscow cinemas: 1st series - Udarnik, Coliseum, Moscow, Central, Khudozhestvenny, Tagansky, Forum, Uranium, Orion, Storm, Salute, Dynamo, Prizyv; 2nd series - Hermitage.


STALINSKY PRIZE 1st DECADE 1950 - for the colour two-series film "The Fall of Berlin" (1949)


Chiaureli Mikhail Edisherovich, Pavlenko Peter Andreevich, KOSMATOV Leonid Vasilievich, Kaplunovsky Vladimir Pavlovich, PARKHOMENKO Alexei Ivanovich, Andzhaparidze Mary Ivlianovna, Yakovlev Vladimir Georgievich, ARETSKY Abram-Ber (Boris) Zalmanovich, ALEXANDROVSKAYA-TURYLEVA Lyudmila Konstantinovna, GELOVANI Mikhail Georgievich, ANDREEV Boris Fedorovich, SAVELEV Vladimir Dmitrievich, KOVALEVA Marina Frantsevna, KENIGSON Vladimir Vladimirovich, TIMOSHENKO Yuri (Georgiy) Trofimovich.


At the V International Film Festival in Karlovy Vary (1950) the film was awarded the Grand Prize of the festival.


Scriptwriters: Pyotr Pavlenko, Mikhail Chiaureli. Director of photography Mikhail Chiaureli. Chief cameraman Leonid Kosmatov. Composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Artists: Vladimir Kaplunovsky, Alexei Parkhomenko. Sound engineer Boris Volsky. Directors: Mery Anzhaparidze, P. Bogolyubov, B. Ivanov, V. Shvelidze. Costume Designer Valentin Perelyotov. Make-up artists: Vladimir Yakovlev, A. Ermolov. Tatyana Likhacheva is a film editor. Combined shooting: cameraman Boris Aretsky, artist Lyudmila Aleksandrovskaya. Text of the songs: Evgeny Dolmatovsky. Assistant directors: A. Golovanov, F. Soluyanov. Camera assistants: V. Nikolaev, I. Panov, L. Krainenkov. Pyrotechnician D. Kostikov. Military advisers: Guards Colonels X. Bogdanov, K. Elochkin, K. Ostreiko. Orchestra of the Ministry of Cinematography of the USSR, conductor: Alexander Gauk. Director of photography Viktor Tsirgiladze.


Starring:

Boris Andreyev (Alexei Ivanov), Mikhail Gelovani (Stalin), Yuri Timoshenko (Kostya Zaichenko), Marina Kovaleva (Natasha Rumyantseva), Vladimir Savelyev (Adolf Hitler), Vladimir Kenigson (General Krebs), Alexei Gribov (Voroshilov), Nikolai Ryzhov (Kaganovich), Alexander Khanov (Bulganin), Gavriil Belov (Kalinin), Maxim Strauch (Molotov), Ruben Simonov (Mikoyan), Fyodor Blazhevich (Marshal Zhukov), Andrey Abrikosov (General Antonov), Konstantin Bartashevich (Army General Sokolovsky), Sergei Blinnikov (Marshal Konev), Boris Livanov (Marshal Rokossovsky), Vladimir Lyubimov (Marshal Vasilevsky), Boris Tenin (Lieutenant General Chuykov), Mikhail Sidorkin (Major General Shtemenko), Oleg Frelich (Franklin Roosevelt, President of the USA), Victor Stanitsyn (Winston Churchill), Maria Novakova (Eva Braun), Jan Verich (Hermann Goering), Nikolai Petrunkin (Joseph Goebbels), Vladimir Renin (Rundstedt), Nikolai Plotnikov (von Brauchitsch), Vladimir Pokrovsky (Jodl), Karel Rodin (Charles Bedston), Miroslav Gomola (Heinz Lynge), Dmitry Dubov (Egorov), Georgi Tatishvili (Kantaria), Veriko Anjaparidze (Hans' mother), Nikolai Bogolyubov (Khmelnitsky), Sofia Giacintova (Antonina Ivanovna, Ivanov's mother), Yevgenia Melnikova (Lydia Nikolaevna, secretary), Dmitry Pavlov (Tomashevich), Andrei Petrov (pilot), Ivan Solovyov (Johnson), Tamara Nosova (Katya), Leonid Pirogov (Byrnes), Grigory Mikhailov (Adjutant Chuikov), Vsevolod Sanayev (commander), Georgy Millyar (German with child in the subway), Viktor Klyucharev, Vladimir Lebedev. (5)


NARRATIVE AND AESTHETICS


ACT 1


Exposition: The year 1941. Alexey Ivanov, a hereditary steelmaker, working at one of the metallurgical giants of the country, reaches a record in steel production. He is summoned to Moscow. A meeting with the leaders of the Party and Government strengthens his comprehension of the importance of his work.


Inciting Incident: The perfidious attack of the German fascists disrupts the peaceful work of the Soviet people. Alexey Ivanov volunteers for the front, and his fiancée Natasha (M. Kovalev) is taken to German captivity.


End of ACT1: Hitler's hordes are stopped on the far approaches to Moscow. As always, on November 7, Red Army units are lined up for the parade in front of Lenin's Mausoleum. Among the soldiers is Alexei Ivanov. Right from Red Square, the troops are sent to the front.


ACT2


Complication: There are fierce battles near Moscow. The Soviet soldiers mercilessly beat the enemy, striking one blow after another. After the disgraceful failure of the adventurist plan to attack Moscow, Hitler's headquarters begins to decay.


1942 ...The Soviet troops are fighting hard for Stalingrad. The Don and Stalingrad fronts join, the steel ring of Russian troops is encircled by the army of Field Marshal Paulus. Sergeant Ivanov participates in the fighting at the walls of the Volga stronghold. One of the units of the Soviet Army liberates Alexei's native village. In the ruins of his house the steelworker swears to take revenge on the enemy for his murdered mother and the beloved girl Natasha, driven into German slavery.


Midpoint: In the midst of hostilities, the Yalta Conference of the leaders of the Allied powers held in Livadia Palace. Churchill tries to justify the inaction of the Anglo-American troops. The Yalta Conference scene ends the first sequence of the film. (The End of Part1)


End of ACT2: Like a driven wolf, Hitler rushes around the Reich Chancellery, grasping at straws like a drowning man, he grasps at Goebbels' "consolation" message that a rift has allegedly broken out in the Allied camp. The last reserves-SS units, divisions of Hitler's personal guards-are put into action. But nothing can save German fascism. Russian tanks appear on the streets of Berlin. Hitler and his accomplices are hiding in the deep underground. Saving his life, the Fuhrer orders the flooding of the Berlin subway, which contains the wounded, the elderly, women and children. As thousands of Germans die in the waters of the Spree, Hitler is married to his mistress Eva Braun. Fearing the peoples' just retaliation, Hitler, like a lost gambler, takes the poison. In response to the German proposal for negotiations, the Soviet command responds with a demand for complete and unconditional surrender.


ACT3


Final Confrontation: The assault on the last stronghold of the Nazis, the Reichstag, begins. Alexei Ivanov and his comrades-in-arms, overcoming the desperate resistance of Nazi suicide bombers, rush to the dome of the building.


Solution: The red flag of victory soars over Berlin. Among the cheering crowd Alexei Ivanov meets his beloved girl Natasha, freed by the Soviet Army from a Nazi concentration camp.


End of ACT3: Arriving in Berlin, Josef Stalin calls on the peoples of the world. Stalin calls on the peoples of the world to fight tirelessly for a lasting peace.



As we can see here, this Soviet Russian film has the Three Act Structure. In a war film, plot points are basically operational decisions made by protagonists. Like the midpoint of this film, Stalin decides entering Berlin before western allies do; at the end of ACT2, Ivanov and his comrades are ordered to raise the red banner on the top of the Reichstag. Also, this final sequence of ACT2 contains the most brutal massacre (Hitler floods the subway station to stop advance of the Red Army as part of scorched-earth policy; Hitler really destroyed infrastructures of Berlin in reality).


For technical and aesthetic aspects, this film has typical aesthetic features of Socialist Realism and advanced use of both newsreels (e.g. effective battle footage inserts in the midst of intercuts or cross cutting) and avant-garde montage technics (e.g. exclusion of totally and ridiculously unrelated cutaways yet metaphoric contrast is effectively formed in intercuts). This means that Chiaureli’s Socialist Realism is really synthesis of the previous stages of the Soviet cinema.


FILE PHOTO: Deep Composition in The Fall of Berlin (1950) © Mosfilm

1. Deep Composition: it is also called Mise-en-cadre means “placed within the frame.” A. Deep focus shot with 28 mm wide lens in 35mm film production; B. Multidimensional, multi-layered staging within one shot. It means that full use of foreground, middle, and background according to perspective (their shot compositions sharply emphasizing linear perspective imaginary line, foreshortening perspective and sotto in su) ; C. This directly denies an allegation that the Soviet montage and Socialist Realism are only about editorial manipulation. In fact, Eisenstein’s first feature The Strike (1925) is also not a practice of editing-absolutism while Eisenstein contentiously organized many examples of extreme deep composition. For instance, in the opening sequence, Natasha and her students moving from flower fields, her school to the industrial area. Deep composition includes extremely low or high horizontal line.


FILE PHOTO: Highly contrasted RGB Colours in The Fall of Berlin (1950) © Mosfilm

2. Highly contrasted RGB Colours (Lights) and Ranges: Entire colour designs of each scene of The Fall of Berlin(1950) clearly resemble Ivan The Terrible Part 2 (1946). In each scene, it contains high-contrasted RGB colours in outfits, buildings, decorations, furniture, tools, weapons etc. yet it is also enhanced by different ranges of colour-filtered lights. The best performances on this concept is, such as ‘Ivanov and Natasha at garden of Natasha’s home’ and ‘Hitler intimidated by advance of the Red Army.’ The latter is also a good practice of intercut to express bravery of the Red Army and intimidation of Hitler simultaneously.


FILE PHOTO: Sudden and Isolated Insert / Cutaway in The Fall of Berlin (1950) © Mosfilm

3. Sudden and Isolated Insert / Cutaway of Actor: This is also a legacy of the Soviet Montage (see the ‘sudden’ inserts of a surprised woman on The Potemkin Stairs or Potemkin Steps in The Battleship Potemkin). Isolated sudden inserts are part of a continuous and intensified action of character but it is shot from different angle and range. Furthermore, it is either close up or extremely low angle shot. It emphasizes the dynamic of the action and create a pause in a blink of an eye musically. However, this is neither overlapping action nor smooth switch between a close up and wide shot by multi-camera work. For example, ‘Ivanov determined to save Natasha at hospital.’


FILE PHOTO: Overlapping Action in The Fall of Berlin (1950) © Mosfilm

4. Frequent use of Overlapping Action in crowd scenes: A. Overlapping Action from reverse cut or cross cutting between two characters. It repeats the most intensified action in different size of shots yet it won’t be completely overlapped; B. Many cutaways with same actions by different persons with different nationalities, languages and classes in a crowd scene. In this film, it is mostly about cheering or ‘hurrah’. The former instance is ‘Ivanov hugs Natasha at the final sequence’; the latter is ‘Stalin’s arrival in Berlin.’ Besides these, ‘Hitler’s reception of axis delegates’ is also a good example of overlapping action in which there are many cutaways of attendees laughing. Multiply the image of the same action to create a certain atmosphere. This is one of classical montage technics.


FILE PHOTO: Metaphoric Contrast in The Fall of Berlin (1950) © Mosfilm

5. Making metaphoric contrast by intercut: this is the best art (montage) performance in this film that when Hitler and Eva Braun proceed their marriage (wedding ceremony), the scene is intercut with a series of shots in which Berlin residents suffering from Hitler’s scorched-earth policy. The metaphoric intercut on the wedding party of Hitler and Eva Braun is the best creative achievement in this film. It embodies Chiaureli’s critical thought(comment) on this. We can say that it is all about the film’s core thought ‘anti-Nazism’.


COMMENT


In conclusion, The Fall of Berlin (1950) is an extremely underrated and distorted V-Day war film masterpiece. Unlike official criticism, the personal cult of Stalin is quite restricted in the film while the major protagonist is the steelworker Ivanov. And most importantly, Dir. Chiaureli even tried to make a sharp contrast between Stalin and Hitler on their handling of their generals and military operations during the Great Patriotic War. Like real history, Stalin listens to his generals but Hitler doesn’t in this film. This is the critical point which ‘historical revisionist’ film critics must faithfully realize and admit.


FULL MOVIE


PART 1


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJyi2BJnmO4


PART2


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVp7Nf6pQnI


NOTES

1. https://www.1000dokumente.de, 1000dokumente, (May 20, 2020) 'Доклад Первого секретаря ЦК КПСС, Н.С. Хрущева на XX съезде КПСС ["закрытый доклад"] и Постановление съезда о "Культе личности и его последствиях", 25 февраля 1956.' Available at: https://www.1000dokumente.de/index.html?c=dokument_ru&dokument=0014_ent&object=translation&st=&l=ru

2. Oliver Stone, Hot Books (US, January 1, 2017) ‘THE PUTIN INTERVIEWS’, p.12.

3. https://www.e-flux.com, e-flux journal, (May 2014) 'From the Issue of Art to the Issue of Position: The Echoes of Socialist Realism, Part I.' Available at: https://www.e-flux.com/journal/55/60315/from-the-issue-of-art-to-the-issue-of-position-the-echoes-of-socialist-realism-part-i/

4. https://tv.akado.ru, AKADO, (accessed May 8, 2022) 'Падение Берлина.' Available at: https://tv.akado.ru/programs/padenie_berlina/

5. http://cinemafirst.ru, Cinema First, (accessed May 3, 2020) '«Падение Берлина» (1949).' Available at: http://cinemafirst.ru/padenie-berlina-1949/



 

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