Aleksandr Nevskiy (Alexander Nevsky) Reviews
Alexander and the Russians march to triumphant music that should get a rise out of the faithful. Eisenstein is not challenging our view of war, he's glorifying it - we watch the German's slaughtered with cheerful music - who are they but faceless machines behind masks? No doubt by this time, Soviet and German ties were thinning, and this is meant to incite anti-German tidings. I even realize that emperor-looking guy is wearing a bishop-like hat with a near-swastika symbol - I'm not sure how accurate this is to 1205 Germany, but it certainly has us thinking for Germans in a modern context for this time.
Before this battle starts, I love the crane up over the spears of Russian peasants - amazing how many extras fill the frame. I'm happy to see Eisenstein agrees that this is the most memorable shot of the film, reiterating it for the final shot. It's great to see a clever battle plan - we wonder why the Russians are just waiting as the German's ride toward them at full speed, what's the idea? Suddenly, the Russian rows open up to clear columns, forcing the Germans to overstep, falling victim to an attack from the side.
It's a film about national pride - not my cup of blood. Those invested with the characters will feel something strong when the woman and the two men fighting for her walk away into the horizon. Or during the funerary procession. Or Nevsky's return to Pskov with Prokofiev blasting at full triumphance, carrying children and greeting people with smiles.
The musical accompaniment composed by Sergei Prokofiev is also a particular highlight as it delivers horrific chills and triumphant fanfares.
The messages and propaganda in terms of the film's social context is outdated, but the film making certainly hasn't.
For filmmakers, this is an influential film and one that deserves some more recognition outside of Russia.
I saw this film late one evening in the '90s and was awestruck. I don't think I blinked during the entire battle scene. This is one of the greatest battle scenes ever filmed. It is historically fascinating because it preserves in film forever the the Battle On The Ice of 1242, where Teutonic Knight invaded and the local militia made a staunch defense. The Knights mounted this attack during the largely forgotten Northern Crusades, which were not against Muslims, but against other Christians.
The battle scene is long and draws you in, desensitizing the viewer into a genuine portrayal of the brutal conditions of medieval warfare.
With a fantastic use of visuals over plot, it's a masterfully directed, smartly written, and terrifically scored movie.
"We have a saying: it's better to die for your country than to leave it."
It was made in the 1930s, but there are several films, including Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" that are significantly better in its craft; films that were made in the same decade or in the 1920s.
Propaganda is a touchier subject than I think people realize. Historically, you're likely to spend as much time allied to your neighbours as fighting them. While making a film about the great warrior kings of England, for example, seems like a no-brainer leading up to World War II, those warrior kings traditionally fought either the Scots, now part of the United Kingdom, or the French, now the allies of that same country. So [i]Henry V[/i] was problematic. Similarly, when today's film was initially made, the Soviets had signed a non-agression pact with the Germans, whom they were fighting in the historical events of the film. The film was held out of release until such point as the Germans violated that pact. Just showing the unanimity of the Russian people was not enough, you see, nor was showing their strength in battle. You had to show them fighting against the right enemy. Especially if you were Stalin.
It is the thirteenth century. Russia, barely united as a country, is surrounded on all sides by her enemies. To the east, the Mongols. To the northwest, the Swedes, whom the Rus have just defeated with the leadership of a prince called Alexander Nevsky (Nikolai Cherkasov). He wants to go back home and live in peace, but the Germans are invading, and the people need leadership. The nobles and the Church are inclined to just let the Germans have their way, but the peasants are not, and they need a great leader to help them in their struggle. Other characters include Vasilisa (Aleksandra Danilova), a boyar's daughter who joins the army to avenge her father's death at the hands of the Germans; and Vasili Buslai (Nikolai Okhlopkov) and Gavrilo Oleksich (Andrei Abrikosov), a pair of warriors who both wish to wed Olga Danilovna (Vera Ivashova), herself a fair maid who swears she will only marry the one who is more valiant in battle.
You don't have to actually see the movie to see the propaganda, I trust. One of the problems I have with Soviet film is that even the best of it is frequently made to serve the purposes of propaganda more than the purposes of cinema. That's not to say this film isn't well-made. Certainly the technicalities of the famous Battle of Ice are noteworthy, if nothing else about the film is. On the other hand, the whole of the film is kind of boring to me. For example, I think that, if Olga doesn't care for either man more than the other, she shouldn't marry either. (Since marrying both is clearly not an option!) Once I got through the technical proficiency of various of the scenes, there wasn't that much else that interested me--my distaste for extended battle scenes is something I've brought up many times before, I think. Besides, there's no real suspense--I assume that Soviets watching it were as familiar with the story as, well, the British of that time were with the story of Henry V.
Not that knowing how something is going to end is necessarily a death-knell for a film, of course. Leaving aside the movies that I'll watch over and over, and the fact that I still cry at the end of [i]Roman Holiday[/i] every time I watch it, I knew how [i]1776[/i] was going to end the first time I watched it, too, and I still enjoyed it. (And now watch it for Independence Day every year, of course.) I won't even attempt to argue that [i]1776[/i] isn't propaganda, though it does say something about the American character that it is! However, where [i]1776[/i]--and, yes, [i]Henry V[/i]--work is that they really try to develop the historical figures into humans. The king may be but a man as I am, but that means he [i]is[/i] a man. He is not a perfect, distant figure who exemplifies all of our virtues and none of our vices. I came away with no more understanding of Alexander Nevsky the man than I did before the movie started, and I recognized several flaws of the Stalinist views while I was at it, surely the opposite of what Stalin wanted.
The Soviet Union, especially under Stalin, had a strange attitude toward women. Officially, women were the equals to men, and it was evidence of Decadent Western Oppression (TM) that women weren't the equals of men in the US and our allies. However, it still wasn't true. Only two women were full members of the Politburo, and one of those served from 1990-1991, at a time when there were two women serving as US Representatives from Connecticut. (Yes, the US Congress is larger than the Politburo was, but still!) Yes, the Soviets sent the first woman into space, but she was also the last woman in space for nearly twenty years. Vasilisa fights in Nevsky's army, but only to avenge her father, and Olga doesn't. I do not feel comfortable picking on the fact that neither woman really has personality, because hardly anyone in the movie does, but the only other woman is Vasili's mother (Varvara Massalitinova), whose only interest is getting her son married off.