From the Eclipse Shelf: The Ascent

On Film / Short Takes — May 11, 2012

We spread the word about Larisa Shepitko, one of the true visionaries of Soviet cinema, when we released two of her incredible films in 2008, but she remains an under-the-radar figure for most movie lovers. By 1979, when she was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of forty, Shepitko had already built up an impressive oeuvre. Probably her most staggering accomplishment, though, is her last film, 1977’s The Ascent, is a frightening vision of World War II that’s at once visceral and numinous.

Shepitko conceived of this very dark film during some of her grimmest days: she was pregnant with her son, and a serious spine injury had made her condition life-threatening. She funneled her morbid thoughts into The Ascent, a brutal and brilliantly made morality tale that follows two Belorussian peasant soldiers—the angelic Sotnikov and the more self-interested, weak-willed Rybak—on the run from occupying Nazi forces. It’s a work of startling violence and hushed spirituality, sometimes within the same scene. In the following sequence, in which Sotnikov and Rybak try to elude capture by hiding out in a widow’s attic, Shepitko also establishes her mastery of space and cinematic suspense.