Issue 69 (2020)

Fedor Popov: Convoy 48 (Koridor bessmertiia, 2019)

reviewed by Denise J. Youngblood © 2020

koridorFor the past few years, the Russian film industry has once again devoted considerable resources and creative energy to producing yet another crop of World War II films, this time intended to stoke national pride in anticipation of the monumental celebrations planned for the 75th anniversary of Victory Day. The COVID-19 pandemic intervened, of course, and 9 May 2020 will be primarily remembered for the absence of celebration. By default, therefore, the movies made to commemorate the anniversary-that-wasn’t assume an outsized role in constructing and reinforcing the fading memories of a long-ago war. That would be a heavy burden for any group of war films to bear. It is especially true given the overall mediocrity of this cohort, of which only one, Kantemir Balagov’s brilliant Beanpole (Dylda, 2019), is likely to be remembered as a film of lasting import.

koridorFedor Popov’s Convoy 48 (original title The Corridor of Immortality) is as unlike Beanpole as it could be, although it also takes place in Leningrad and its environs. The picture, titled Convoy 48 for distribution in English-speaking countries, is based on a sliver of a real-life story from the Leningrad blockade. On 18 January 1943, after six days of heavy fighting, the Leningrad and Volkov Fronts converged and opened a land corridor to the south of Lake Ladoga. Over the next three weeks, a 33 km. railroad line was constructed (under heavy German bombardment) to transport supplies to the besieged city, essentially replacing the so-called Road of Life across the frozen Lake Ladoga. The building of the Shlisselburg rail corridor, sometimes dubbed the Corridor of Death, was a feat of genuine audacity and heroism that took many Soviet lives. The titular renaming of the railroad as The Corridor of Immortality is obviously intended to remind viewers that although many Leningraders died in its construction, many other lives were saved due to the success of the new shipping route.

koridorNot surprisingly, civilian Leningraders were pressed into service, alongside soldiers, to build the railroad. Given the demographics of Leningrad’s survivors, many were young women and girls (devushki). The trailers and other publicity for Convoy 48 lead one to believe that these girls will be the film’s focus, as was the case in Popov’s best-known previous effort, his debut feature on the Chechen wars, Caucasian Roulette (Kavkazskaia ruletka,2002). Indeed, for the first 30-45 minutes, Convoy 48 looks like a standard rendition of the “girlfriends” type of war picture. Although the script was co-written by Dmitrii Karalis’, a veteran of the Shlisselburg railway, its lack of realistic gritty details is immediately obvious. Amazingly healthy-looking young women rally to the cause with true Soviet determination despite the hardships that lie ahead. By midway through, however, Popov’s focus increasingly shifts away from the girls to their male comrades, who are even more clichéd war film personality types than their female counterparts. The process of building a railroad, even under fire, is painfully tedious, and Popov’s pedestrian direction fails to provide any dramatic tension. For a more talented director working with the same content, this might be the point: war is neither heroic nor exciting, but Convoy 48 is so banal, so underwritten and mechanically acted, that it cannot transcend its assemblage of exhausted clichés. Even the obligatory romance, ending in the equally obligatory death of one of the young lovers, failed to elicit a single tear from this secretly sentimental reviewer. Watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder if Popov had ever seen Stanislav Rostotskii’s girls-at-war classic, the unforgettable The Dawns Are Quiet Here (A zori zdes’ tikhie,1972), in which each girl is so deftly and believably delineated that each death is as unbearable as it is inevitable.
 
koridorThe only noteworthy aspect of Convoy 48 is Maksim Shinkorenko and Igor’ Grimiakin’s cinematography, which takes maximum advantage of the bleak, frozen landscape and an icy palette of winter grays to create an atmosphere of fearsome desolation, at least in the first part of the film. Many of the early establishing shots are so strikingly beautiful that they seem to belong to some other, better movie, one that I actually might like to see. Apart from the cinematography, however, Convoy 48 reflects its relatively low production budget of just under $1 million. Not surprisingly, given its virtually total lack of human interest and plodding pace, it failed to recoup its investment, earning less than $700,000 in Russian distribution from an audience estimated at 200,000. It is now available for rental on a few streaming services and as a DVD.

As is typical for Russian war films, Convoy 48 ends with a dedication to the Great Patriotic War’s real heroes, in this case the blokadnitsy. They deserve so much better than this uninspired effort, however well intended.

Denise J. Youngblood
University of Vermont

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Convoy 48 (Corridor of Immortality), Russia, 2019
Color, 140 minutes
Director: Fedor Popov
Screenplay: Fedor Popov, Dmitrii Karalis
DoP: Maksim Shinkorenko, Igor’ Grimiakin
Composer: Andrei Golovin
Editor: Aleksandr Khachko
Cast: Artem Alekseev, Francisco de Borja de la Bella, Inna Egorova, Daria Ekamasova, Igor’ Iasulovich, Aleksandr Iatsenko, Andrei Kharybin, Lidiia Kopina, Valerii Kukhareshin, Artem Melnichuk, Aleksandr Oblasov, Tagir Rakhimov, Svetlana Smirnova-Katsagadzhieva
Producers: Fedor Popov, Aleksandr Brovarets
Studio: Stella

Fedor Popov: Convoy 48 (Koridor bessmertiia, 2019)

reviewed by Denise J. Youngblood © 2020

Updated: 2020