We were hyped up to see this Iranian movie, Pig, but competing against it at the same time was a movie about Russian tank drivers in WWII. One showing only so off we went. (We would hit a late showing of Pig the next week.) One of our theater pals told us that they had received a few angry phone calls threatening protests if they dared show this Russian Propaganda! They went ahead and showed it, and we live in very silly times.
But The Boy and I were glad to catch this fun Russian version of Fury, though it does grow wearying that every country in the world gets to be patriotic but ours. The Soviets, who treated their own troops (and everyone else’s) like fodder, don’t feel the need to insert that little datum into their WWII movies. It’s all “glory-to-mother-Russia, tovarisch” and “yay for us, we killed the Nazis” without so much as a mention of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
I’m just gonna reiterate that: Even the Russians who allied with the Nazis until the Nazis turned on them don’t feel the need to drag out all their dirty laundry for a fun war movie.
And it is fun. Our hero is a Russian tank team captain who beats the odds by taking out six German tanks on his first day, but who ends up being captured with his team and sent to a POW camp where, a few years later, he’s recruited to drive the new T-34 Russian tank in war games to train German Panzer crews how to fight against them better.
Preposterous, of course, and not the least surprising that the Russians outsmart their German captors to destroy the opposing tanks and flee across country to safety. It’s a fairytale but it’s a patriotic one, and Russians have a right to it, even if parts of it (the Communist-heavy parts) make me a little queasy.
Setting aside nationalism for good and bad, this whole thing works thanks to writer/director Alexy Sidorov’s light touch, and deft hand at communicating the intricacies of tank battle in a convincing fashion. We get to learn about our tank team, and we get to see them bond as buds in a manly fashion. This is presented unreservedly and unabashedly as is the decidedly (lightweight, to be sure) heterosexual romance.
I mean, we don’t really ask for much. We’re not hard to please. If I want to be critical, I guess I could say that the romance is very lightweight, which you can attribute to the fact that the two principles are in a POW/concentration camp on the one hand, but on the other hand is also done completely sincerely. It’s a very WWII-era thing, the war-time romance is. I’m not gonna knock it.
The CGI reminded me of that seen in Chinese movies: It doesn’t seem to be overly obsessed with “realism” but more about reading properly. The set pieces of the film are, naturally, tank battles, and these are made exciting by panning out to give a sense of the physical space that the action is happening again. Although it occasionally reminds me of the classic Atari “Tank Wars” game, overall it creates a feel like a modern version of the old “I’m traveling, as you can see by the line moving on this map” effect.
In other words, you know what’s going on, and you can see the danger, so you’re less concerned about whether it looks “real”.
Another thing that was done was slo-mo tank shots. In this case, the point was generally to make clear the trajectories of the shells which would otherwise NOT be clear. The Boy regarded this CGI favorably and felt that it was probably well researched: Like tank shells probably did bounce off the ground sometimes and come up underneath; or they probably did occasionally scrape by each other in mid-air. Can’t swear that any of it happened, but it felt real enough.
Another very realistic-feeling thing was the impact of shells on the armor of the tank. It wouldn’t hurt the tank, but it would hurt the guys inside the tank a great deal. Their ears would be ringing for minutes afterward. At one point, the impact was so great that it seemed to knock some of them out. Again, that seems realistic, and if it’s not, well, at least it’s exciting.
So, if it was silly on some level, it was for trying to tell a kind of upbeat, patriotic story—I wanna emphasize again that this is a Russian movie. Russians must battle out with Finns for the most morose of Caucasian cultures, right? Even outright Russian propaganda films tend to be kind of dark, like Sergei Eisenstein or, hell, Stalker. This movie eschews death for heroic invulnerability, and I’m okay with all of that.
I say if the Russians can do it, so can we. Let’s get on this, America!