The Ascent

Byelorussia, 1942: exhausted villagers accompany partisan fighters on a trek through the deep snow in retreat from Nazi invaders. It is a frozen hell in which each figure seems cast into a separate universe, and such is the goal of the special German forces assigned to divide and conquer the partisan resistance. Two partisans who leave the group to forage for food are caught by the Germans, tortured, and hung atop a mountain as a lesson to surrounding villagers. In this setting, Larissa Shepitko develops an extraordinary psychological drama centering around three men: a Russian collaborator, a partisan who attempts to capitulate, and another who makes his own death a profound moral defeat for the Germans. Shot in black-and-white in subzero temperatures, at once haunting and transcendent, The Ascent goes beyond a religious allegory of martyrdom to speak to moral questions that were very much alive and unresolved in Soviet society in the 1970s.

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