Larisa Shepitko is one of the lesser-known Soviet filmmakers, yet she’s up there with the greatest to ever do it. It is said that Shepitko started to feel her mortality after a horrible accident, and it is then that she felt an urgency to complete her most important work, “The Ascent”. The film masks itself as a war film, but it’s about so much more than that. “The Ascent” is one of the most spiritual films out there. It dabbles with complex existential questions we all ask ourselves during our brief time on Earth.
Is there more to life than our physical experience? Are we all mortal beings wandering around, or does our consciousness make us immortal? In one of the film’s most intellectually stimulating scenes, we see Anatoly Solonitsyn in the chilling role of a Nazi interrogator as he’s attempting to break the spirit of Sotnikov, played brilliantly by Boris Plotnikov. When Sotnikov refuses to give up the location of his troops claiming that there are things more important than the skin we live in, the Nazi interrogator laughs in response. “It’s all rubbish. We’re all finite. Everything ends with our death- our lives our selves, the whole world.”
Sheptiko draws many parallels between Christ and Sotnikov, and the title refers to spiritual transcendence. “The Ascent” suggests that even though our lives may be cut short at any given moment, we must live and die by our principles. After all, life holds no meaning when your choices lead to a life of suffering due to a guilty conscience. Larisa Sheptiko’s “The Ascent” has clearly influenced films like “Come and See” (which was directed by her husband), and yet it is a shame that it is not as revered by the film community. Those who discover Sheptiko’s work will be floored by how powerful her pictures are. Calling her arguably the greatest female director of her time would be an understatement, she’s one of the best directors to ever do it period, regardless of gender, time or place.