This week in Film — THE ASCENT

Not every great movie needs a signature shot, but it helps when you have one:

In The Ascent, a 1977 Russian World War II drama newly restored and released from The Criterion Collection, director Larisa Shepitko gives us her signature shot 45 minutes into the story of two Byelorussian soldiers trying to survive the subzero winter of 1942. Nazis have captured the soldiers and are transporting them via horse-drawn sled to the nearest occupied town for trial and execution. While in transit, Rybak (Vladimir Gostyukhin) fantasizes about escape and swift death at his captors’ hands but lacks the agency to act. His comrade, Sotnikov (Boris Plotnikov), tried to kill himself as a way out but couldn’t go through with it; now he peacefully lies on the sled as the world pulls by. Shepitko and cinematographer Vladimir Chukhnov keep the camera tight on the men’s faces, letting their weary mugs fill the frame. But when Shepitko cuts to Sotnikov, the camera glides upward and floats just above him. The camera pulls focus to the background — nature, life, all rushing by without a care to the men on the sled — then back to Sotnikov, a shadow across his face as the camera settles back down. It’s as if his soul rose six inches and took a look around.

Boulder Weekly Vol. 28, No. 25, “Such great heights