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This review is from: Criterion Collection: Eclipse: Wings & Ascent [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
(Please note that this is a review of "The Ascent" only.)
"The Ascent" is one of the few films, along with perhaps Lean's 1948 version of "Oliver Twist" and Bergman's "Persona" which could be described as "perfect". By that I mean that it is a film where there is hardly one wasted shot, where every line of dialogue, gesture, piece of music and mise-en-scene is used with maximum impact. There are better films than "The Ascent", but hardly any others which hit their chosen marks as concisely as Shepitko's masterpiece.
"The Ascent" is also the bleakest of all films, with a final scene of personal suffering that surpasses the grimness of the finales of "Lola Montes" and "Strozsek" combined, and one that seems to reach out to the emptiness and vulnerability in all human beings. It also has, in Anatoly Solinitsyn's performance as the quisling interogator, perhaps the nearest cinema has ever got to portraying sheer evil in human form. It is a magnificent, tortured performance, to me one of the greatest in the history of cinema. (There was good reason that Solinitsyn was Tarkovsky's favourite actor.)
"The Ascent" will probably be forever known as a very "Russian" film, which means it is grim. It is also the greatest film ever made by a female director, as if that distinction matters. But it is better than that. It is a film that asks questions about the human soul while retaining its own soul, and all the time dissecting us with scalpel-like ruthlessness and precision.
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