Blu-Ray Review: The Ascent

Cinema, like almost every other walk of life, has been a male dominated world since the first ever motion pictures in the late nineteenth century. Whilst it’s true of most areas of the film industry, this disparity has been particularly marked behind the camera. Indeed, until relatively recently, there were few female directors who the majority of cinephiles, rightly or wrongly, considered to form part of film canon. Larisa Shepitko was one of this elite group. The Ascent is her second film.

In Belarus during World War II, two Soviet partisans leave their beleaguered unit and head to a local village in search of food. After encountering a German squad, Sotnikov (Boris Plotnikov) is shot in the leg and Rybak (Vladimir Gostyukhin) has to drag him to the nearest shelter; which turns out to be Demchikha’s (Lyudmila Polyakova) house. However, they’re soon captured and taken to enemy headquarters, where they both must make a difficult decision.

Skirting censorship due to its thinly veiled religious allegory, The Ascent is a masterfully crafted tale of guilt, bravery, endurance and deceit. Shepitko’s powerful anti-war drama deservedly won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. These men are not just fighting against the Nazis, but the elements and mother nature herself. Their perilous circumstances are highlighted using stark cinematography, which mirrors the futility of their struggles. Set to the backdrop of a blizzard embattled countryside, The Ascent brings the trials of war into sharp relief.

Special features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New selected-scene commentary featuring film scholar Daniel Bird
  • New video introduction by Anton Klimov, son of director Larisa Shepitko and filmmaker Elem Klimov
  • New interview with actor Lyudmila Polyakova
  • The Homeland of Electricity, a 1967 short film by Shepitko
  • Larisa, a 1980 short film tribute to his late wife by Klimov
  • Two documentaries from 2012 about Shepitko’s life, work, and relationship with Klimov
  • Program from 1999 featuring an interview with Shepitko
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by poet Fanny Howe

    New cover by Century.Studio

The Ascent is released on Blu-Ray by the Criterion Collection on 15 February.

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