69. “The Ascent”, Larisa Shepitko (1977)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

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The Ascent or Восхождение or Voskhozhdeniye

dir. Larisa Shepitko (1977) scr. Yuri Klepikov and Larisa Shepitko based on the novel Sotnikov by Vasil Bykov cin. Vladimir Chukhnov and Pavel Lebeshev with Boris Plotnikov, Vladimir Gostuykhin, Sergei Yakolev, Lyudmila Polyakova

In 100 words: A Soviet-era war film built on Christian allusions, Ascent is one of the most completely enveloping and all-consuming films on this list. Its compositions, especially the stark whites and bleak landscapes feel purposefully remote and isolating, while the soundscape highlights the elemental and the primal, effectively instilling a sense of immediacy to the picture. As the film progresses, these images accrue power as the story delves deeper into the human condition: characters face such grim existential questions about heroism, patriotism, and the nature of betrayal, especially when it comes to survival. Shepitko’s alchemy makes all these ideas powerful and moving.

Other Movies for Context: Shepitko’s husband Elem Klimov was also a renowned director, who made another incredible (if utterly disturbing) war film called Come and See (1985) that makes quite an astonishing double feature with this one, though I’m not sure if I could handle seeing both back-to-back. Otherwise, Shepitko had a short filmography due to her tragic death in 1979. The Ascent was the last feature she ever made.

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