The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Yuli Raizman’s celebrated World War II documentary is about the capture and defeat of Berlin by the Red Army after British and U.S. aerial bombardment had reduced the city to rubble. Most U.S. highschoolers apparently believe that their nation fought the Soviet Union in the Second World War. There may be some poetic justice here, if one recalls the non-aggression pact between Stalin and Hitler in the 1930s. But how about schools at least showing these kids Berlin?
This would also teach these students something about cinema. In one scene in the film, as the sound of bombing proceeds on the soundtrack, a Soviet soldier helps an infirm German across the street. Well, perhaps; for a trick of editing may have combined bombing from another time with the no-less-kind act. Sterling fellow that soldier, but not necessarily heroic.
The most oft-quoted documentary of all time contains bits and passages that are still being recycled, such as an aerial traveling shot of the ruined city. (The VHS box: “Over 40 Byelorussian and Ukrainian 1st Army cameramen contributed footage.”) But perhaps what is most remarkable is Raizman’s (and co-editor Yelizaveta Svilova’s) correlation of Berlin-present and Berlin-past. Germany’s official unconditional surrender is prefigured by a shot of white flags outside city window after city window. The next shot is a flashback showing the swastika-adorned flags that the white ones have replaced.
Some details are grisly—such as the scene of the charred corpse of Goebbels, the Third Reich’s Minister of Propaganda, after his suicide. Yet this is followed by an incredible visual idea: the radio tower that no longer is broadcasting his propaganda. It is an “Ozymandius”-touch, but within a scheme of collapsed rather than extensive time, an ironical reflection on the sudden bankruptcy of German aspiration and phallic dreams of domination.
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