Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Encounter at the Elbe

Vstrecha na Elbe; propaganda film, Russia, 1949; D: Grigori Aleksandrov, Aleksei Utkin, S: Vladlen Davydov, Konstantin Nassonov, Boris Andreyev, Mikhail Nazvanov

The Soviet Red Army and the American army meet at the Elbe, in Germany, thereby ending World War II with a victory. Still, there are new challenges in the Soviet occupied territory in peace, too, namely rebuilding the cities and winning over the sympathies of German civilians. The Soviet commander in charge of the area, Kuzmin, creates a friendship with German scientist Dietrich and persuades him to become the mayor of Altenstadt. However, when Dietrich's patents are stolen, he suspects the Soviets and flees to the American zone. There, he is shocked by the US mismanagement of Germany, and returns humbly back to the Soviet zone. A Nazi spy, Schrank, tries to flee to the American zone to give them the patents and escape with a double spy, Mrs. Sherwood, but is arrested.

"Encounter on the Elbe" is one of those propaganda films that have been run over by time, from a state that doesn't exist anymore, yet it is interesting to watch it purely for the early days of cinema and some 'good-old-school' filmmaking that manages to pierce through the dictated storyline. The story about the Soviet rule of East Germany after World War II gives rarely seen insights on trying to win over the hearts and minds of a nation under occupation, yet it is undermined by naive attempts at propaganda that seem unintentionally comical today. For instance, when the US and Soviet army meet at the Elbe, one American commander takes some binoculars and praises their precision and optical quality, concluding they must be from Zeiss, until the Soviet counterpart points out how those binoculars are actually Soviet. In another scene, when an American commander expresses his concern that Moscow just wants to put the area under Soviet rule, Kuzmin denies it and says: "Soviet rule...must be earned!" Some scenes fair better, such as the one where the Soviets release all prisoners from a former Nazi jail, but overall, directors Aleksandrov and Utkin show the Soviet rule practically as a Utopia, whereas the American occupation zone is presented as shameful, with scenes of US soldiers decadent drinking in bars, fighting and selling German cultural heritage for cigarettes. Such one-sided approach and pompous speeches by the Soviets really seem dated. As such, despite good moments, "Encounter" seems less like a film, and more like a tailor made gimmick intended only to inflate Stalin's endless ego.



Andy said...

Where did you find a copy of this to watch, and did it have English subtitles?

Marin Mandir said...

I didn't. It was on TV two years ago and I simply managed to catch it.