ⓘ The Fall of Berlin (film)
The Fall of Berlin is a 1949 Soviet war film and an example of Soviet realism, in two parts separated in the manner of a serial, directed by Mikheil Chiaureli, released by the Mosfilm Studio. The script was written by Pyotr Pavlenko, and the musical score composed by Dmitri Shostakovich. It starred Mikheil Gelovani as Joseph Stalin.
Portraying the history of the Second World War with a focus on a highly positive depiction of the role the Soviet leader played in the events, it is considered one of the most important representations of Stalins cult of personality.
1.1. Plot Part 1
Alexei Ivanov, a shy steel factory worker, greatly surpasses his production quota and is chosen to receive the Order of Lenin and to have a personal interview with Joseph Stalin. Alexei falls in love with the idealist teacher Natasha, but has difficulties approaching her. When he meets Stalin, who tends his garden, the leader helps him to understand his emotions and tells him to recite poetry to her. Then, they both have a luncheon with the rest of the Soviet leadership in Stalins home. After returning from Moscow, Alexei confesses his love to Natasha. While they are both having a stroll in a wheat field, their town is attacked by the Germans, who invade the Soviet Union.
Alexei loses his consciousness and sinks into a coma. When he awakes, he is told that Natasha is missing and that the Germans are at the gates of Moscow. In the capital, Stalin plans the defense of the city, explaining to the demoralized Georgy Zhukov how to deploy his forces. Alexei volunteers for the Red Army, takes part in the parade in the Red Square and in the Battle of Moscow. At Berlin, after receiving the blessings of his allies – Turkey, the Vatican, Romania and Japan – and watching a long column of Soviet slaves-laborers, Natasha among them, Adolf Hitler is furious to hear that Moscow has not fallen. He dismisses Walther von Brauchitsch from his office and offers the command of the army to Gerd von Rundstedt; the latter refuses, saying that Stalin is a great captain and Germanys defeat is certain. Hitler orders to attack Stalingrad. In the meanwhile, Hermann Goring negotiates with British capitalist Bedstone, who supplies Germany with needed materials. After the Soviet victory in Stalingrad, Vasily Chuikov tells Ivanov that Stalin is always with the Red Army. The storyline leaps to the Yalta Conference, where Stalin and his Western Allies debate the future of the war.
1.2. Plot Part 2
Stalin asks his generals who will take Berlin, they or the Western Allies. The generals answer that they will capture the city. Alexeis Guards Army advances towards Berlin, while Hitler has a nervous breakdown and demands that his soldiers fight to the end. The Germans plan to execute the inmates of the concentration camp in which Natasha is held before the arrival of the Red Army, but Alexeis unit liberates the prisoners before they carry through their design. Natasha faints, and he does not find her. Hitler and the German leadership fall into despair and lose their grip on reality the closer the Soviets get to Berlin. Hitler orders to flood the subway stations as the Soviets approach, drowning thousands of civilians. He then marries Eva Braun and commits suicide. Gen. Hans Krebs carries the news of Hitlers death to the Red Army and begs for a ceasefire. Stalin orders to accept only an unconditional surrender. Alexei is chosen to carry the Victory Banner, alongside Mikhail Yegorov and Meliton Kantaria. Their division storms the Reichstag and the three hoist the banner atop of it. The Germans surrender and Red Army soldiers from throughout the USSR celebrate victory. Stalins plane lands in Berlin, and he is greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of peoples of "all the nations", holding posters with his picture and waving various nations flags. Stalin carries a speech in which he calls for world peace. Standing in the crowd, Alexei and Natasha recognize each other and are reunited. Natasha asks Stalin to let her kiss him on the cheek, and they hug while prisoners praise Stalin in numerous languages. The film ends with Stalin wishing all peace and happiness.
2.1. Production Background
Stalins cult of personality, which began to manifest itself already in the late 1930s, was marginalized during World War II; to mobilize the population against the enemy, Soviet films focused on historical heroes who defended Russia or on the feats of the people themselves. The premiers character appeared in only two pictures during the war. However, as victory seemed secure, Stalin tightened his control over every aspect of the Soviet society, including cinema. After 1945, his cult returned to the screen with greater intensity than ever before, and he was credited as the sole architect of Germanys defeat. Denise J. Youngblood wrote that shortly afterwards, there remained only three kinds of war heroes: "the dead, the maimed and Stalin."
2.2. Production Inception
Mikheil Chiaureli, Stalins favourite director, and writer Pyotr Pavlenko have already collaborated to create the 1946 personality cult picture The Vow. The Soviet Minister of Cinema, Ivan Bolshakov, instructed them both to begin work on The Fall of Berlin shortly after the release of The Vow in July 1946. The film was conceived as the Mosfilm studios gift to Stalin for his official 70th birthday, which was to be held on 21 December 1949. The Fall was supposed to be part of a cycle of ten films about the premiers role in World War II, entitled Stalins Ten Blows, though not corresponding with the eponymous series of Eastern Front campaigns. The project was only partially fulfilled until Stalins death.
2.3. Production Development
As with all films in which his character made an appearance, Stalin took a keen interest in the work on The Fall of Berlin. The premier intervened in Pavlenkos writing, read the screenplays manuscript and corrected several grammatical mistakes; he also deleted a short sequence during which a German civilian in Berlin exhorted his family to hasten and flee as the Red Army approaches. German historian Lars Karl believed this signaled his resolution to demonstrate that the civilian populace had nothing to fear from the Soviets. The picture was the first feature film about the Battle of Berlin and the events in Hitlers bunker, preceding Der letzte Akt by five years.
Edvard Radzinsky claimed his father heard from Pavlenko that Beria told him The Vow was to be a "sublime film", intended to identify Stalin with Jesus: Lenin, paralleling John the Baptist, recognized him as the Messiah; "this seminarists language betrayed the authorship of this observation". Radzinsky added The Fall of Berlin "further developed the theme", as it ends "with an apotheosis: Stalin arrives by plane. In the white attire of an angel descending from the clouds", he "reveals himself to the expectant humans. They glorify the Messiah in all tongues." Russian historian Alexander Prokhorov believed the film was influenced by Nazi propaganda films. Author John Riley claimed the scene in which Stalins plane arrives in Berlin – which was fictional; Stalin never flew to the German capital, let alone on the day of the capture of the Reichstag – was modeled after Hitlers landing in Nuremberg from the Triumph of the Will, and that the films ending was inspired by a similar sequence from Kolberg ; the storming of the Reichstag "parodied" the massacre on the Odessa Steps from Battleship Potemkin, a gesture intended to mock Sergei Eisenstein.
According to the memories of Svetlana Aliluyeva, Chiaureli approached her father with the idea to combine the fate of his son, Yakov Dzhugashvili, in the plot. Stalin promptly rejected this. Soviet actor Artyom Karapetian claimed Chiaurelis wife, actress Veriko Anjaparidze, told him Stalin was so outraged when he heard of this that Lavrentiy Beria – who was standing nearby – reached into his trousers pocket, "presumably, for his gun." The directors daughter, Sofiko Chiaureli, recounted that her father "knew he was saved" when Stalin wiped tears from his eyes as he watched Gelovani descend from the plane and muttered "If only I had gone to Berlin."
2.4. Production Principal photography
Chiaureli brought some 10.000 Soviet extras to Berlin for the filming, and also hired many local residents for the tunnel flooding sequence; he was not able to work in the Reichstag as it was located in the British Zone of West Berlin and conducted the photography mainly in the Babelsberg Studios. However, most of the episodes set in the German capital were filmed in ruined cities in the Baltic region. In addition, a scale model of Berlin, over one square kilometer in size, was built in Mosfilms studios; this miniature was to create the urban combat scenes in the end of Part II.
The Soviet Army provided five divisions, their supporting artillery formations, four tank battalions, 193 military aircraft and 45 captured German tanks to recreate the open field battles portrayed in The Fall of Berlin. They consumed 1.5 million liters of fuel during the filming.
The Fall of Berlin was one of the first colored films made in the Soviet Union. The producers used Agfacolor reels, taken from UFAs studios in Neubabelsberg.
2.5. Production Music
Composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who was accused of Formalism during 1948, was called on to compose the score. Vano Muradeli said that his contribution to The Fall of Berlin and other Stalinist films was the only thing which saved him from persecution by the establishment. Riley wrote that the films score, along with Song of the Forests, "was the closest Shostakhovich came to overt praise for Stalin." One additional piece of music used in The Fall of Berlin was Felix Mendelssohns Wedding March, heard during the scene in which Hitler marries Eva Braun; the march was banned in Nazi Germany. According to Riley, it is unclear whether Chiaureli intended to mock the Nazis by portraying them as unable to recognize an item they have forbidden, or he has simply been ignorant of the ban.Soundtrack for Part I
- Main Title Part 1 2:44
- Beautiful Day 2:14
3.1. Reception Contemporary response
The Fall of Berlin was released a month after Stalins birthday, on 21 January 1949 – the twenty-fifth anniversary to the death of Vladimir Lenin. In the USSR, it was watched by 38.4 million viewers, becoming the third most popular Soviet movie of 1949. Director Mikheil Chiaureli, writer Piotr Pavlenko, cinematographer Leonid Kosmatov, composer Dmitry Shostakovich and actors Mikheil Gelovani, Boris Andreyev and Vladimir Kenigson were all awarded the Stalin Prize, 1st Class for their work. In Czechoslovakia, the film also won the Crystal Globe in the 5th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
On the day of the films release, Literaturnaya Gazeta published a column by Aleksandr Stein in which he described the film as "wonderful. a truthful portrayal of the relations between the people and the leader. and the love of all people to Stalin." A day after, Vsevolod Pudovkin wrote in Soviet Art: "this is an outstanding work of Soviet cinema" that presented "in profound depth and in vast scale. a bold, creative representation of the subject. a lively demonstration of the ever developing genre of Socialist Realism." The picture was enthusiastically promoted by the Soviet press. A series of articles in Pravda praised it as an authentic representation of history.
Public reaction to the film was monitored by the government: in a memorandum to Mikhail Suslov from 11 March 1949, two officials from the Bolshevik All-Union Communist Partys Propaganda Department reported that the newspaper Art and Life received numerous letters from viewers, who – although generally approving of the film – criticized various aspects of the plot; many of them cited Ivanovs boyish conduct as unworthy of a Stakhanovite. Lieutenant Colonel Yevgeni Chernonog, a war veteran, watched The Fall of Berlin while intoxicated. He commented: "And where did this angel come from? We have not seen him there". He was arrested and condemned to eight years in the Gulag.
The East German political establishment excessively promoted the picture, as well; it was officially classified as a documentary, and all servicemen of the Barracked Peoples Police were obliged to watch it. However, The Fall of Berlin was received with little enthusiasm by the populace. Years later, in an article he wrote for the Deutsche Filmkunst magazine on 30 October 1959, Sigfried Silbermann – director of the state film distributor Progress Film – attributed this response to the effect years of anti-Soviet propaganda had on the German people.
French critic Georges Sadoul wrote in Les Lettres Françaises: "In the USSR, films are no longer a merchandise. They have become a means to spread ideology, and are produced by engineers of the human soul. Some aesthetics today advocate American film noirs, but in the future only specialists will be interested in these museums of horror, the remains of a dead epoch. While the majority of people will applaud The Fall of Berlin." In France, it sold 815.116 tickets.
When the picture was imported to the UK by the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR in 1952, the British Board of Film Censors considered banning it, especially as it was attacking Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Private screenings of the film were held both for the Members of Parliament in Westminster and for the Prime Minister in his Chartwell residence. Churchill wrote to historian Hugh Trevor-Roper in May, asking about the veracity of the Berlin underground flooding by Hitler, and the latter replied it was "mythologizing" history. After the Foreign Office concluded the picture was "too one-sided to serve as an effective communist propaganda", it was released without cuts, with a long disclaimer that stressed "the advantages of living in the free British society" and that the Soviet screenwriters completely ignored the Western Allies role in the war. The film became the most successful Soviet or foreign picture about World War II screened in the UK during the 1940s and 1950s. Tony Shaw noted The Fall of Berlin enjoyed mostly positive reviews during its six-week run in London and its subsequent showings in the country, though some also commented it was overblown propaganda; the critics of The Sunday Times and the Evening Standard both opined that the Soviets obliteration of the UK-US contribution to victory was akin to the same treatment received by the Red Army in Western productions about the war.
The film was one of the few foreign-language pictures to be presented in the BBCs program Current Release ; former war correspondent Matthew Halton was invited to comment on it. The US magazine Variety described it as "The Russian answer to the many US and UK films about the war. having some contemporary significance, in the light of the tensions between the West and the Soviet Union." The New York Times critic dubbed it as a "deafening blend of historical pageantry and wishful thinking. directed as if his Chiaurelis life depended upon it" and – in what author David Caute claimed was the worst condemnation which could be leveled at it in the day – that it had a "Hollywood-style plot". He also disapproved of the historical veracity of the Yalta Conference scene, while John Howard Lawson, recently released from prison, praised it as an authentic depiction of events. Officials in Artkino, the pictures US distributor, claimed the film was "already witnessed by 1.2 million people" in the United States by 9 June 1952, a day after its release there.
3.2. Reception De-Stalinization
Stalins death in March 1953 signaled a sharp turn in the politics of the Eastern Bloc. After Beria was arrested, Chiaureli was instructed by the new rulers to leave Moscow. The Fall of Berlin was withdrawn from circulation. A directive of the Soviet Film Export Bureau to halt its screening reached East Germany in July. During the summer of 1953, the scene featuring Alexei Ivanov dining with Stalin and the other Soviet leaders in Moscow was edited out from all available copies; author Richard Taylor attributed this to the appearance Berias character had there. In the post-1953 version, Ivanov is introduced to Stalin, and is then shown strolling with Natasha in the wheat field.
On 25 February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech condemning Stalins cult of personality in front of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In the midst of it, he told the audience:
"Let us recall the film, The Fall of Berlin. Here only Stalin acts. He issues orders in a hall in which there are many empty chairs. Only one man approaches him to report something to him – it is Poskrebyshev. And where is the military command? Where is the politburo? Where is the government? What are they doing, and with what are they engaged? There is nothing about them in the film. Stalin acts for everybody, he does not reckon with anyone. He asks no one for advice. Everything is shown to the people in this false light. Why? To surround Stalin with glory – contrary to the facts and contrary to historical truth."
Following the speech, the film was banned altogether, and all of its copies were placed in the archives. However, it continued to be screened in the Peoples Republic of China, the leadership of which opposed Khrushchevs criticism of Stalin. The pro-Stalinist protesters in the March 1956 Georgian demonstrations included a request to hold showings of the film in their list of demands.
3.3. Reception Critical analysis
Historian Nikolas Hullbusch viewed The Fall of Berlin as a representation of Stalins strengthening political power. He compared it to the first fiction film to feature the premier, the 1937 Lenin in 1918, which depicted Stalin as Vladimir Lenins most devout disciple; and to The Vow, in which he is chosen as Lenins heir and takes an oath to keep his legacy. In The Fall of Berlin, Lenin has no impact on the plot. Instead of being the state founders successor, Stalins legitimacy was now based on his leadership of the USSR during the war.
Denise Youngblood wrote that although not the first to portray Stalin as "war hero in chief" – this was already done in pictures like The Battle of Stalingrad – The Fall of Berlin elevated him to a new status: "it deified Stalin." Richard Taylor pointed out the premier was the only decision maker in the plot, the only one responsible for the victory over Germany, and all other characters were either subservient or antagonistic. Stalins stoic calm was stressed out by deliberately contrasting it to the hysterical rage of Hitler, or to the slow wit of Georgy Zhukov, who was portrayed in accordance with his political status in the late 1940s, after he was shunned by Stalin: Zhukov was not even among the generals who received Stalin in Berlin. Beside this, most characters – from Natasha to Gerd von Rundstedt – praise him as a great leader. Author Katerina Clark discerned that Stalin, beside his function as a great captain, was made the enabler of romantic relationship: before meeting him, Alexei was incapable of expressing his love to Natasha. Slavoj Zizek commented the leader played the part of the "magician and the matchmaker who wisely leads the couple to reunion." Alexeis character was not intended to be perceived as an individual, but rather, a symbol to the entire Soviet people: he was depicted as an archetypal worker; his date of birth is given as 25 October 1917 by the Julian Calendar, the day of the October Revolution.
The film also made many references to the political situation in Europe. Turkey, which was a neutral country during the war but a rival of the Soviet Union in the Cold War, was portrayed as if it was an Axis state; the Turkish ambassador even greeted Hitler in the name of Ismet Inonu. The Nazi sympathies of Vatican ambassador Cesare Orsenigo were emphasized as well. Churchill, seen as an enemy after his 1946 Fulton Speech, was portrayed in a highly negative fashion.
It is regarded by many critics as the epitome of Stalins cult of personality in cinema: Denise Youngblood wrote "it was impossible to go further" in the "veneration" of him; Philip Boobbyer claimed the cult reached "extraordinary proportions" with its release; Lars Karl opined it "stood above any other part of the cult"; Slavoj Zizek regarded it as the "supreme case of the Stalinist epic" Nikolas Hullbusch commented that it was the "zenith" of the representation of Stalins screen "alter-ego"; and Richard Taylor believed it was "the apotheosis of Stalins cult of Stalin".
3.4. Reception Restoration
In 1991, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, The Fall of Berlin had its first public screening in thirty-five years, during the 48th Venice International Film Festival.
In 1993, Dusan Makavejev included footage from the film in his picture Gorilla Bathes at Noon.
In 2003, the film was remastered by a company from Toulouse, in a relatively poor quality. In 2007, it was re-released by the American group International Historical Films. No available version contains the Beria scene, though several old uncensored copies of the film appear to exist.
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