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Film / Stalingrad (1993)

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The battle that changed everything.

"If you start to think around here, you go crazy."
Obergefreiter Fritz Reiser

Stalingrad is a 1993 German war film directed by Joseph Vilsmaier.

The film follows a platoon of Heer soldiers through their service on the Eastern Front fighting Soviet forces, centered around, naturally, the Battle of Stalingrad. Along the way, the brutality of the conflict they find themselves in along with the very harsh winter leaves them demoralized, as they try to find a way to cope with the war. Thomas Kretschmann stars as Lieutenant von Witzland, the leader of the platoon.

See also the 2013 Russian film with the same title (that also happens to star Thomas Kretschmann) and Enemy at the Gates for other points of view on the battle.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Plenty, but there are some examples that really stand out.
    • When German soldiers are resting during a lull in fighting, Müller — the youngest soldier in company — overwhelmed by stress from his first battle, breaks down crying. It seems Reiser is about to mock him, but instead, he comforts younger colleague and has a little small-talk with him. This is when Müller gets his "GeGe" nickname.
      Fritz Reiser: Be glad that you can cry. Tears are like engine oil.
    • During another lull in battle, German soldiers — mainly Reiser and Rohleder — try to befriend captured Russian boy named Kola. While it doesn't go smoothly, mostly due to Kola's resentment over the fact that he was taken by Those Wacky Nazis, it does feature some heartwarming moments like Rollo offering the boy his food ration or Kola briefly speaking in German and offering to repair Reiser's shoes (which makes Fritz laugh heartily).
      Manfred Rohleder: [bitterly, when Kola refuses to accept his food ration and just stares blankly] Of course. We are German beasts who invaded Russians.
    • A Russian soldier searching the tunnels for Germans pauses to coo over a small child.
    • When soldiers of penal battalion are being driven towards the frontlines in a truck for upcoming battle with Russian tank company, Otto recalls a story of what happened the last time he was granted a leave and visited his family. Then he starts singing "O Tannenbaum" ("O Christmas Tree") Christmas carol and is soon joined by other soldiers.
  • Agony of the Feet: Captain Musk develops a really nasty case of trench foot late in the movie. When one of his soldiers takes his boot off, it looks skeletal and blackened, as most of the flesh has most likely rotten due to gangrene.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: For the Russians, as they close in on the German positions during the Christmas holiday season.
  • Artistic License – Geography: In the opening scene, when German soldiers are enjoying their leave in Italy, the subtitles claim that action takes place in Porto Cervo. In reality, the scene was filmed in small town of Cervo. And it would actually make more sense, given the fact that protagonists board a train in order to get to Stalingrad — an impossible thing to do if they were in Porto Cervo (which is situated on Sardinia island), but very feasible if they were in Cervo (which is situated on the mainland).
  • Artistic License – History:
    • In the opening credits, Friedrich Paulus, the commander of the Sixth Army, is identified as a Generaloberst (Colonel General). He was not promoted to that rank until November 30, 1942, shortly after the encirclement.
    • During the train ride to Stalingrad, one of the German soldiers has the post-war logo for FC Schalke 04 tattooed on his arm.
    • After the protagonists' failed attempt at escaping the Stalingrad via an airplane, the narration informs the viewer that the last German airplane left the eponymous city on January 23rd, 1943. That is not possible — the Pitomnik Airfield (where the action takes place) had been already taken by Soviets on January 17th, and the Gumrak Airfield on January 22nd. On January 23rd, there was only one airfield remaining in German hands (Stalingradski Airfield) and it was unsuitable for landing nor taking off at that time (especially not for heavy Junkers Ju 52 transport airplanes) due to short runway, snowfall and lack of lighting. The correct date would be January 13th, since that was the day when last German airplane actually took off from Pitomnik Airfield.
  • Artistic License – Military: In battle against Russian tank company — composed of T-34 tanks — the soldiers of penal battalion use an old PaK 38 50 milimetre cannon, which is somehow effective... even though in the real world, German anti-tank guns of such type and calibre were unable to penetrate T-34's frontal armor.
  • Asshole Victim: Given all atrocities committed by Captain Haller throughout the movie, there is little doubt that nobody cried after him when he was fragged by his own soldiers.
  • Ate His Gun: Otto kills himself in this way.
  • Atrocity Montage: Lots of them. At the very beginning of the movie, one Russian POW is beaten to death by German soldier for no reason, and it only gets worse from there. Other examples include executing Russian civilians falsely accused of sabotage via firing squad (the real reason being that there's just too many mouths to feed), burning villages surrounding Stalingrad and either rounding up their inhabitants or driving them into snowy plains to die of cold and starvation or tying a captured Russian woman to a bed and using her as a comfort woman.
  • Beach Kiss: The film opens with the Germans on leave in Italy after a tour in North Africa. Reiser emerges from the water and kisses his Italian date.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: When Hans and his comrades are trying to get to Pitomnik Airfield, they ask a Russian civilian for directions. Both parties talk in their own languages, but still manage to understand each other thanks to usage of simple words and expressions.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Feldmann (the soldier who accidentally gave away his team's position and was later chosen to "redeem" himself by blowing up machine gun nest) bleeds profusely from the mouth when his innards get ripped to shreds by machine gun fire.
  • Body Horror: Oh, so much. Soldiers on both sides get brutally killed or mortally wounded left and right and it ain't pretty. Examples include a Russian walking like a zombie with his face burned (a Wehrmacht soldier who tries to force him to surrender understandably freaks out at this sight), rotting corpses of Germans in the sewers with rats crawling over them, another German soldier who gets blown in a half (and survives the ordeal long enough to see and feel that he no longer has legs), corpses ran over by tank threads and turned into indistinguishable pulp or Captain Musk's trench foot.
  • Break the Badass: Most German soldiers are accomplished veterans who fought in more than a single battle before and readily join the fight in eponymous city, expecting to be Home by Christmas. By the end of the movie, they are all reduced to empty shells of their former selves, no longer caring about their homeland nor outcome of the battle and interested only in their own survival.
  • Brick Joke: Of a very, very cynical variety. When Rohleder is having a conversation with Lieutenant von Witzland while on a train en route to Stalingrad, he facetiously makes a bet that he is going to survive this war, and Hans is not. Some time later, when soldiers are resting during a lull in battle, von Witzland tries to comfort Rohleder (who just got a "Dear John" Letter and is venting his frustation on his colleagues) by saying that he's a good soldier without whom everybody else would already be dead. Then he adds "and you would win that bet".
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Non-comedic example. When a battle inside a factory at the beginning of the movie is coming to an end, one German soldier kills a horrifically wounded Russian by smashing the back of his head with a shovel... and admits, in shock, that he lost control of his own bowels. Reiser promptly implies that the same thing happened to his comrade, who got freaked out by the same Russian.
  • Call-Back: Lieutenant von Witzland delivers one to Captain Haller (shortly before killing him), referring to his previous victims — Kola, a captured Russian boy whom he had executed by a firing squad and young German soldier nicknamed GeGe, whom he shot just a moment ago. The first part refers to Witzland's earlier attempt at convincing Haller to spare the boy (and Haller's sarcastic remarks about Lieutenant's personal feelings towards him) and the second part to conversation between Reiser and GeGe. When the former one learned that the latter one's name was Müller, he noted that it is a common name and many other soldiers are also named Müller — thus he gave him a nickname.
    Hans von Witzland: [eerily calm] I report, Captain, that Russian boy's name was Kola. And this one here is Müller. Müller, like so many others.
  • Child Soldiers: A young Russian boy named Kola is captured by the platoon after attempting to attack them with a grenade.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: After describing how the Russians have completely cut them off, the German general tells his men to smoke if they got 'em.
  • Crisis Point Hospital: The squad take one of their wounded to a field hospital that's been set up in the basement of a large building; not only is it positively overflowing with patients, the staff there is so completely overworked that one of the soldiers has to force a doctor at gunpoint to operate on the wounded soldier they brought there.
  • "Dear John" Letter: During a break in the fighting, Rollo gets a letter saying that his wife has left him for a French POW.
  • Death Course: Much of the combat takes place in and around the various factories and sewers of Stalingrad, with Red Army soldiers hiding behind every corner.
  • Death of a Child: Russian boy Kola, who gets captured by Germans early in the movie, is later shot indifferently by a firing squad. And much later, when Hans and his comrades stumble upon a group of Russian refugees in snowy plains, they can see a mother crying hysterically over the body of her infant child.
  • Despair Event Horizon: As the situation gets more and more hopeless, various characters throughout the movie lose their drive to do anything about their current predicament and become completely indifferent to horrors around them. Some, like Captain Musk and soldiers accompanying him in the dugout, just sit there and wait until they are dead or captured by Soviets. Others, like Otto, either shoot themselves or beg others to do it for them. The General and his staff eventually just give up and surrender to Russians, while von Witzland and Reiser try to walk out of Stalingrad on foot, although it's obvious that they are aware that they're not getting out of there alive. In the end, they just collapse out of exhaustion and later freeze to death.
  • Dirty Coward: Captain Haller is all cocky and full of himself when at an advantage, either thanks to his position in the chain of command or with armed troops by his side. However, the moment he finds himself alone and unarmed against a squad of mutinous soldiers — who are all very angry at him for his previous atrocities (and the fact that he just killed GeGe) — he quickly resorts to grovelling before them and begging for his pathetic life.
  • Downer Ending: The battle of eponymous city ends just as well for the Germans as you may guess from your history lessons, and in the meantime, all characters we got to know end up dead. Kola is murdered by a firing squad, GeGe is accidentally shot by Captain Haller before the latter gets offed himself, Otto commits suicide, Captain Musk succumbs to his wounds, Irina is apparently shot by her own people when trying to lead von Witzland and Reiser out of Stalingrad, and the latter two freeze to death in the middle of snowy plain. The only one who might have survived is Rohleder, but given his situation, there is little chance that he lived through it either.
  • Driven to Suicide: Otto kills himself.
  • Ensign Newbie: Lieutenant von Witzland, who lampshades it.
    Rollo: Is this your first time at the front?
    Lieutenant von Witzland: (shrugs) Everyone must start somewhere.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: All the German soldiers in the story die. Except Rollo and Captain Musk, maybe. They're last seen near a procession of Germans who are going to surrender. But even if they did surrender themselves to the Soviets, only 6% of the German prisoners survived their imprisonment and returned home.
  • Evil Laugh: Captain Haller (who else?) lets out quite hammy one at the beginning of the movie, mocking von Witzland's failed attempt to defend a Russian POW getting beaten to death by a gendarme and subsequent protest.
    Hans von Witzland: [outraged] Captain! I would like to protest against behaviour of your men!
    Captain Haller: Yeah, yeah, protest all right. Right before the Führer himself at best. [laughs derisively]
  • Expy: General Hentz is loosely based on Colonel General Walter Heitz, who was captured at Stalingrad.
  • Face Death with Dignity: A Russian boy Kola, who was captured by the protagonists and later ordered shot by Captain Haller. He seems merely resigned to his fate when he is about to be killed.
  • Father to His Men: Zig-zagged with Captain Musk. On one hand, he seems to genuinely care about soldiers under his command, fights alongside them instead of resorting to rear-echelon tactics (which puts him in stark contrast with Captain Haller), is perfectly A-OK when soldiers speak up their minds in his presence and even shares his last cigarette with them after job well done. On the other hand, he is still a strict leader who expects nothing short of total discipline and obedience from his men and is not above using them for suicide missions if it means achieving his goals (though admittedly, the soldier in question royally screwed up earlier and was indirectly responsible for death of his many comrades).
  • Faux Action Girl: Irina. Although she is a soldier of Red Army, the only "action" on her part is pushing Hans into the sewage water the moment he takes his eyes off her. She spends the rest of the movie either as a hostage or a prisoner, and eventually, she is unceremoniously shot by her own comrades while leading von Witzland and Reiser out of Stalingrad.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Captain Haller, again.
  • Friend or Foe?: During the assault on a factory, von Witzland's unit engages in chaotic close combat and one of his soldiers accidentally kills a comrade. Another one remarks that the hapless killer shouldn't feel too sorry, because this happens to everyone.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Several times, like when a Wehrmacht soldier panics during assault on Soviet-held factory and is left cowering in shell-pit. Or when another German breaks down crying after accidentally shooting his comrade. Or when one man completely freaks out during battle against a tank company and tries to flee, screaming that he wants to go home. It usually doesn't work.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: Averted. At one point the Germans and Russians call a truce to collect their wounded and dead, and some even start sharing food with each other, until single shot from Müller (no, not the one nicknamed GeGe) brings the tentative peace to a violent end.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Nazi German Wehrmacht vs Soviet Red Army. Although both sides are led by brutal, totalitarian governments which resulted in millions of casualties, and by this point in the conflict both sides were resorting to drastic measures such as resorting to penal battalions, the movie manages to humanize the individual soldiers on both sides and the horrors they face. At some point in the movie, due to the sheer chaos and horror going on in the battle, the front lines and factions disappear entirely and the characters focus on merely surviving, an endeavor they all fail in.
  • Gung Holier Than Thou: Just before the soldiers join the battle, they attend a service in which the chaplain paints the battle as one of Western Christians against the godless Bolsheviks.
  • Handicapped Badass: Hauptmann Hermann Musk, whose Establishing Character Moment has him quickly affix his prosthetic arm before leading the platoon on an assault against a heavily guarded factory.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Deconstructed like everything else which would be portrayed as heroic and noble in any other movie. After Feldmann screws up by accidentally firing his rifle — thus alerting the Russians to the Germans' presence — he is later ordered by Captain Musk to clear out the enemy machine gun nest by running up to it and blowing it up with a grenade. He manages to do the job... and gets perforated by machine gun fire right thereafter. His death isn't instantaneous either, so we get to see a lovely closeup on his face as the blood is seeping through his teeth, clenched in excruciating pain. After that, he is never spoken about again. There is nothing glorious about this, it's just — like the entire goddamn war — completely pointless and foolish waste of human life. In real world, nobody wants to be a hero, because heroes usually end up dead, and their "heroic" sacrifice is rarely (if ever) mentioned later.
  • Home by Christmas: On the train ride through Ukraine, one of the soldiers boasts that they'll take Stalingrad in three days.
  • Hope Spot: Reiser, GG, and Witzland find medical tags and try to use them to be airlifted home. Unfortunately, a riot breaks out at the airfield and the last plane takes off without them.
  • Hopeless War: As the Sixth Army slowly starves, freezes, and runs out of ammunition in the encirclement, it becomes clear that the war is not in Germany's favor anymore.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: The Russian sniper Irina is found tied up to a bed Haller's stronghold. It's clear she's been used as a 'comfort woman', and the protagonists even plan to take turns doing the same. Hans puts a stop to it and lets her go, however. Hans at first was conflicted over whether or not to help her, kill her, or rape her. "Fick mich oder schiess mich!"
  • Ironic Nickname: Fritz Reiser is frequently called "Dicker" (which means "fat" or "thicker") by his comrades, although in reality, he is quite skinny.
  • It's All Junk: At the beginning of the movie, the protagonists are eagerly going to Stalingrad, expecting to seize a bit of glory for themselves and earn some decorations. Most preferably, the Iron Cross. Much, much later, when all discipline had already gone to hell, they plunder a supply drop package and actually find some neatly packed medals in there, including the prized Iron Cross. However, at this point, when they are slowly dying from cold and hunger, they are meaningless to them. Subverted with Rohleder, who — in somewhat grotesque gesture — actually takes one of those Crosses and rather apathetically pins it to his uniform.
    Reiser: Shitty medals!
  • Laughing Mad: Otto, just before putting a bullet to his head.
  • Man on Fire: Germans use flamethrowers when clearing out Soviet-occupied factory at the beginning of the movie and later throw Molotov cocktails at enemy tanks. Cue the sight of Russian soldiers burning, screaming and begging for help.
  • Mercy Kill:
    • An unnamed German soldier somewhere in Stalingrad's outskirts begs his comrades passing by to shoot him. His wish isn't granted.
    • There's also Irina, who was apparently used as a comfort woman by German officers and after being set free by Hans, tells him to "fuck her or shoot her". His response is to provide her with a pistol and invite her to commit suicide. She can't bring herself to do it, however.
    • Invoked by Reiser when von Witzland's company (what's left of it) is briefly forced to serve as a firing squad. He tries to calm down his and Müller's conscience by suggesting that what they're doing is essentially this trope, since it means their victims won't have to suffer from cold and hunger anymore.
  • Mood Whiplash: Von Witzland, in his conversation with Rohleder, jokingly recalls a "bet" they previously made. The moment he finishes the sentence, all hell breaks loose as Russians suddenly unleash an entire barrage on German positions.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Though by the end, almost all of them decide to desert.
  • The Neidermeyer: Captain Haller doesn't seem to contribute much to the battle aside from harassing von Witzland for being a "Russian sympathizer", making life more difficult for him and his men by getting them relegated to penal battalion and ordering war crimes committed on Russians (soldiers and civilians alike). He also spends the entire battle far away from the frontlines, in safety and comfort of a warehouse stock full of food... even while ordinary soldiers outside are slowly dying from cold and starvation. True to form, he is shot by the remaining troops at the end.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Lieutenant Hans von Witzland is a German nobleman serving in the Wehrmacht. The clue is in the "von". He also smokes with a cigarette holder.
  • Old Soldier: One of the soldiers is named "Opa" (Grandpa) Erwin.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. When a young private tells Lance Corporal Reiser his name is Müller, his response is "We've got too many of those", and nicknames hims GG (GeGe).
  • Please Wake Up: When GG is mortally shot by Captain Haller, Reiser jumps up to him and tearfully begs him not to die.
  • Product Placement: The soldiers get an air drop of supplies after being surrounded. The camera doesn't linger on it, but it includes "Scho-Ka-Kola" brand chocolate (in the red and white tins). This wartime chocolate brand is still available.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Deconstructed. Whenever German and Soviet soldiers fight and kill each other, it is nasty, brutal, chaotic and completely deprived of any glory, and the war itself is portrayed as senseless and wasteful. Instead of making people more manly, it breaks them down and completely devastates them mentally. Actually, when Irina dares von Witzland to shoot her, he gives her a pistol and tells her to do it herself instead, since by this point, he had grown sick of killing.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: A short one, but Otto is less than impressed when Captain Musk tries to disavow any responsibility for all the crimes commited by the German army in Russia by claiming he isn't a Nazi.
    Otto: No, you're worse. Lousy officers. You went along with it all, even though you knew who was in charge.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: After the incident in the hospital, Witzland and the others are reassigned to a penal battalion that's tasked with clearing land mines.
  • Robbing the Dead: The soldiers steal good-quality boots from corpses, and a few later steal doctor-signed passes in a desperate attempt to be airlifted out with the wounded.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: During a lull in the fight, von Witzland tries to communicate with Russians occupying adjacent building in order to call for cease-fire, so that both parties could gather their dead and wounded comrades from the street. When one his soldiers reminds him that such course of action is forbidden (as it would be deemed fraternizing with the enemy), von Witzland brushes him off, saying that rules do not apply here.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: As the hopelessness of the battle becomes clear, three of the soldiers try to get on a medical evacuation flight.
  • Shirtless Scene: The opening scene in Italy is laden with it, though with less focus on the women at the Italian beach.
  • Snow Means Death: As it did in real life at the Battle of Stalingrad, with the Germans freezing and starving through a Russian winter.
  • The Squadette: Irina, a Red Army soldier the unit encounters several times.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: At one point, Otto tells a story about the last time he was granted a leave and visited his home, only to find out that his own family turned out to be more of a strangers to him than his squadmates. The more his wife tried to understand him, the more he hated her. Eventually, he ran away and got drunk before finally returning to the frontlines. He later asked his superiors to deliver his wife a false message that he was killed in action.
  • Tanks, but No Tanks: All of the T-34s in the movie have a 85mm gun turret. This type was produced well after Stalingrad, in 1944.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: General Hentz explains to his staff that the Russians have broken through their flanks and are about to completely encircle the city.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: The entire Sixth Army is trapped behind enemy lines after a Russian pincer attack cuts them off inside Stalingrad.
  • Trashcan Bonfire: German soldiers are shown warming their hands at trashcan bonfires at a casualty clearing station behind the front at Stalingrad, as the protagonists arrive from the train. It's an early signal of how terrible things will be.
  • Uncertain Doom: Most of the German protagonists die, except for two soldiers who are seen surrendering to the Soviets. Their odds aren't great though. These survivors were sent to POW camps in Siberia, and very few returned home after the war. The majority actually died of diseases, sickness, and the forced march to prison camps immediately after the battle. The lowest estimates for the total number of German prisoners of war who died in Soviet camps during the war are around one million.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: By the time Otto shoots himself, the soldiers are so numbed to the horrors around them that they don't even flinch. His body falls to the floor and he is promptly forgotten about.
  • Urban Warfare: And it is hellish. Much of the first half consists of the platoon fighting to take one factory in Stalingrad, losing most of their men and then getting surrounded by the Russians.
  • Villain Protagonist: To a certain degree, though the enlisted ranks get off far more lightly than the officer class.
  • War Is Hell:
    • There is nothing glorious about war in this movie — it's filthy, disgusting and senseless. Soldiers on both sides are killed in very cruel and undignifying way, they frequently break down during combat either panicking or crying like children or even losing control of their own bowels, and the whole thing is portrayed as nothing more than completely pointless and foolish waste of human life.
    • When the platoon arrives at an assembly area near Stalingrad, they walk past a field hospital where hundreds of wounded are being treated. And Reiser points out that they're not even in the city yet.
    • Many of the civilians caught in the conflict are forced to leave their homes and struggle to survive among the ruins of the city. Some are driven into the wilderness and live in primitive dugouts. Others are just rounded up by Germans and executed for perceived crimes.
  • We Have Reserves: Witzland explodes at the general for treating his men as nothing more than a flag on a map.
  • Winter Warfare: Once the Russian winter starts, hell becomes frozen over for the Germans still inside the city.
  • The Women Are Safe with Us: Enforced by von Witzland near end of the movie. After fragging Captain Haller and taking refuge in his warehouse, Lieutenant and his comrades find previously met Red Army soldier Irina — now a prisoner, tied to the bed and apparently used as a sex slave. Germans suggest they take turns with her and invite Hans to rape her first (since he's an officer). He sets her free instead, and later furiously shouts that nobody is going to touch her.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Captain Haller has absolutely no qualms about having Russian boy Kola shot by firing squad along with a few other "saboteurs".