Oscars: Russia Selects Fyodor Bondarchuk's 'Stalingrad' for Foreign Language Category

"Stalingrad" director Fyodor Bondarchuk and actor Thomas Kretschmann
"Stalingrad" director Fyodor Bondarchuk and actor Thomas Kretschmann
 Alexei Timofeyev

ST. PETERSBURG – The Russian Oscar committee has announced Fyodor Bondarchuk's World War II action-drama Stalingrad as the country’s contender in the best foreign-language movie Oscar race.

The $30 million Non-Stop Productions and Art Pictures Studio production is based on an original script by Ilya Tilkin and has no novelistic source. Tilkin studied museum archives and diaries of the Stalingrad Battle participants to write the script. The story involves the Germans trying to take a residential building in Stalingrad (now modern-day Volgograd) that has been stubbornly holding out with a remaining young female resident and several Russian soldiers.

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The house is based on the legendary Pavlov's House, which was a fortified apartment building during the Battle of Stalingrad. It gained its name from Sergeant Yakov Pavlov, who commanded the platoon that occupied the building and defended it during the battle.

The film features a fresh-faced young cast of relative unknowns in the Russian roles and veteran actors Heiner Lauterbach (Das Experiment) and Thomas Kretschmann (The Pianist) as the two main German officers in the story. Ironically enough, Kretschmann, who has been typecast in Nazi roles, had already starred in a 1993 film called Stalingrad directed by Joseph Vilsmaier, in which Kretschmann played a lower-ranking soldier. Moreover, director Bondarchuk, also an actor, portrayed an Ivan in a little-seen 1989 Soviet Production also called simply Stalingrad.

Slated to be released wide in Russia – a minimum of 1,500 screens – on Thursday, October 10, the film will be initially given a limited release in Volgograd as of Saturday, Sept. 28 and Moscow as of Wednesday, October 2 in order to meet Oscar release deadlines. The Chinese release of the film is planned at 3,200 screens – an unprecedented number for a Russian film.

The film was first screened in nearly-finished form (some end credit visuals were missing) on Thursday, Sept. 19 at St. Petersburg’s newly built Velikan Cinema for exhibitors and other industry figures as part of the KinoExpo film-industry trade show.

Walt Disney Studios Sony Pictures Releasing (WDSSPR) representatives dutifully kept known journalists, recognized on sight, out of the screening. Producer Alexander Rodnyansky and director Bondarchuk were in attendance. In their remarks before the screening, both thanked the industry audience for their “trust” and emphasized that the screening was being held to foster good word of mouth among the industry.

A host of high-brow Russian filmmakers – from Alexander Sokurov (Faust) to Alexei Uchitel (The Edge) to Sergei Bodrov (Mongol) were in the audience and congratulated Bondarchuk after the screening.

Russia’s Oscar contender short list included Nikolai Lebedev’s hockey biopic Legend No. 17, Yuri Bykov’s Major, Boris Khlebnikov’s A Long and Happy Life and Renata Litvinova’s Rita's Last Fairy Tale.

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