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Film review: Battle for Sevastopol – biopic on female sharpshooter hits the mark

Superbly shot action scenes and a strong lead performance by Yulia Peresild make this drama about Lyudmila Pavlichenko – most successful woman sniper in the history of warfare – well worth watching

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 11:08am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 11:08am

3.5/5 stars

During the Red Army’s defence of the Soviet Union’s western border in 1941, sharpshooter Lyudmila Pavlichenko chalked up 309 confirmed kills – all Nazis. Battle for Sevastopol, a Russian-Ukrainian co-production directed by Serhiy Mokrytskyi, details the achievements of Pavlichenko, considered the greatest woman sharpshooter the world has seen.

It’s hard to make audiences relate to a movie about a sniper (someone who takes lives from afar) .... just ask Clint Eastwood. His Oscar-nominated American Sniper was a box office smash, but failed to portray Navy SEAL Chris Kyle as anything other than a sociopathic killer detached from reality.

Film review: American Sniper - war's psychological impact in focus

Battle for Sevastopol suffers from a similar problem. Nicknamed “Lady Death”, 25-year-old Pavlichenko is a complex character, and Yulia Peresild gives an impressively layered performance. Her visceral frontline experiences are genuinely harrowing, while various romantic interludes remind us that she is still just a young woman. But Pavlichenko’s clinical precision with a rifle – and obvious pleasure in successfully taking human life – can evoke conflicting emotions in the viewer.

Pavlichenko’s story is framed within her later trip to America and unlikely friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt (Joan Blackham), who also narrates the film. As is often the case in foreign-language productions of this nature, these English segments feel stilted and awkwardly staged, and mostly detract from the thrust of the central narrative.

Nevertheless, Battle for Sevastopol is gorgeously photographed, and its harrowing battle scenes are comparable to anything Hollywood can offer. Anchored by Peresild’s compelling central performance, facing down adversity, conflict and chauvinism with stubborn resolve, the story of Lyudmila Pavlichenko succeeds in hitting its mark.

Battle for Sevastopol opens on October 20

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