1977: Something NewThe Ascent (Larisa Shepitko, 1977)The Ascent
has the reputation of a very emotional experience, but my appreciation of the film was rather clinical. I admired it without really feeling it. But that's okay because there's so much to admire, starting with the stark, black-and-white cinematography, which is wonderful in typical Soviet fashion. Unlike the shimmery grays of Shepitko's Wings
, the high contrast photography of The Ascent
creates a binary world of rough textures, where even snowflakes seem substantial in their brilliant whiteness. Even though I failed to connect on an emotional level, I did get a visceral sense of the harsh environment, no more so than when one character drags another through the snow. I might have shivered in empathy.
The character being dragged in that scene is played by Boris Plotnikov, and he possesses the most photogenic face in a black-and-white film since Max Von Sydow in The Seventh Seal
. He has the perfect balance of light and dark features for this style of cinematography, and his eyes are alive to match. Every closeup of him is a bit awe-inspiring.
Bergman was on my mind throughout The Ascent
, as was Tarkovsky. The story is something of a war survival tale (e.g., My Name Is Ivan
, perhaps) but also plays as a spiritual allegory, which is an aspect that never quite worked for me. I was much more interested in the surprising turns the narrative took, as the protagonists staggered between episodes of The Twilight Zone