World War II is drawing to a close. Furious and prolonged fighting is exhausting both the Soviet and the fascist troops. The more decisive the advance of the Soviet army, the more often White Tiger, a huge, indestructible fascist tank, appears in the battlefield. It relentlessly emerges from the smoke of combat, ruthlessly destroys the adversary and swiftly vanishes. No one can either verify or refute its existence. However, the Soviet military command decides to build an extraordinary tank – a special version of the T-34. The pursuit of the mystic monster begins...

Russian drama offers a unique and enthralling metaphysical view on war.

RUSSIAN RESURRECTION FILM FESTIVAL: War and fantasy are a rare and risky combination but the two genres are superbly and seamlessly melded in White Tiger, a strikingly original re-interpretation of the centuries-old man vs. beast conflict.

a powerful statement about the enduring nature of war

Director and co-writer Karen Shakhnazarov has crafted a thrilling and intriguing WWII drama which blends spectacular, heart-pumping action with lyrical mysticism, while making a powerful statement about the enduring nature of war.

Based on the novel Tank Crewman by Ilya Boyashov, the film is set in the Russian front in the summer of 1943. Alexey Vertkov plays a tank driver who is the sole survivor when his battalion is attacked by a German tank.

The 29-year-old soldier suffers burns to 90 per cent of his body but miraculously recovers after three weeks in hospital, except for a severe case of amnesia: he can’t remember his name or anything about his past. If he has any family, he assumes they have been told he’s perished, and ruefully tells a colleague that 'dead men should not come back".

Dubbed Ivan Naidenov by his comrades, he’s promoted to junior lieutenant and given a daunting assignment: Find and destroy a large, lethal tank nicknamed White Tiger which had demolished his battalion and other Russian units.

Army chiefs are baffled by reports that the marauding war machine is crewless yet manages to appear out of nowhere, cause havoc without being damaged, then vanish into thin air.

Naidenov claims that other tanks talk to him and warn him of pending danger and he prays to a tank god. He refers to his nemesis as 'he", implying it has a malevolent personality, the personification of evil.

Metaphorically, the monstrous tank can be viewed as a symbol of the Third Reich’s military might and, in the minds of its leaders, its invincibility. One Russian officer grudgingly describes the seemingly indestructible weapon as a 'triumph of German genius".

There are obvious parallels to Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick, with an armoured fighting vehicle substituting for the fearsome whale. The concept also invites comparisons to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s 'blond beasts of prey", referring to a conquering master race which brutalises its people.

The Russians build their own version of a super-tank, the real-life experimental model T-34-85, which had extra armour and a high-velocity gun, to combat the White Tiger.

The first battle is expertly staged and frighteningly real, with numerous burning men and charred corpses, almost all of it filmed with conventional special effects without resorting to tricked-up CGI. It ends when the phantom tank disappears through a marsh.

The second encounter in a bombed-out village is even more impressive and visceral. The claustrophobic close-ups in the T-34-85 are reminiscent of Israeli writer-director Samuel Maoz’s 2009 masterpiece Lebanon.

A monologue at the end, delivered by an historical figure that I will not name, is truly chilling.

Vertkov performs admirably as a man who is literally shell-shocked and shows a heroic grit and determination to combat a mysterious, ghost-white enemy which only he seems to understand.

As the fellow crewmen Alexander Vakhov and Vitaly Dordzhiyev provide a welcome degree of comic relief. Vitaly Kishchenko is splendid as Major Fedotov, who is bemused by Naidenov’s strange beliefs but supports him. Ensuring as much authenticity as possible, Shakhnazarov cast German actors speaking in their native tongue as German officers.

The music of Richard Wagner is the perfect accompaniment to a powerful and moving story.


Watch 'White Tiger'

Tuesday 24 November, 9:30pm on SBS World Movies
Thursday 26 November, 1:15am on SBS World Movies

Russia, 2012
Genre: Action, War
Language: Russian
Director: Karen Shakhnazarov
Starring: Vladimir Ilin, Valeriy Grishko, Aleksey Vertkov, Vitaly Kishchenko

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