The Eastern Front, 1943. A Soviet tank unit lies in ruins after an attack, a solitary survivor is found. Although badly burned, he recovers quickly, but suffering from amnesia is unable to remember who he is. Nicknamed Naydenov (found), he tells of a mysterious white Tiger Tank that emerged to attack his tank convoy before disappearing. He is determined to find and destroy it, but a carefully laid trap fails when cannon fire fails to affect the beast...
Co-written by Karen Shakhnazarov and frequent collaborator Aleksandr Borodyanskiy and based on a novel, White Tiger is one of a large number of Second World War films to emerge in Russia during the last decade. While many of these films are relatively straight-forward depictions of the war from the too long neglected Russian point of view, that aside from the setting could pass as Hollywood productions, there are a handful that deliberately eschew genre tropes in favour of an art-house approach to the material and this is probably one of the most extreme examples, a darkly mysterious war film that despite a few explosive action scenes, would be more at home in an Andrei Tarkovsky retrospective than seen alongside contemporary projects like Fury (2014).
The lead character is the utter antithesis of the cliche war movie hero - he is not the angry rebel fighting his own war, nor the family man just wanting to get home safely - he has no past, no background, not even a name, he just follows instructions and fights because that is what he is doing. His apparent ability to communicate with the tanks borders on the surreal, although like everything else in this film it is left suitably ambiguous. Despite having no real characterisation and no subplots, the film moves quite briskly through the first two-thirds, careful attention to detail and accuracy in the portrayal of the military helping to emphasise the strangeness of a hunt for a possibly supernatural vehicle - it climaxes in a dramatic tank battle and a tense duel that is incorporated well into the storyline. The final chapter of the film takes the script deeply back into art-house territory with several Tarkovsky-esque, extremely elongated sequences, which seem to have nothing to do with the story, culminating in a thought provoking and well suited ending that explains nothing and everything.
Shakhnazarov's direction is beautiful - long takes and roving cameras help to show the tremendous detail and scale of the sets, with briefly glimpsed background action adding a very realistic feel. The tanks themselves are expertly filmed - there is no CGI in use here, instead there are a large number of real tanks whose weight and power is emphasised as they are shown crashing through obstacles. The explosions all look real and highly destructive, with a large number of burning stunt-men and charred corpses in the main battle sequence that emphasises the gory brutality of tank conflict - fortunately the film avoids the modern trends for frenetic editing and shakey camera-work during these scenes. Much of the soundtrack is excerpts from Richard Wagner which are well used, particularly in the stunning first introduction of the White Tiger.
There are no big names in the cast, but performances are strong. Aleksey Vertkov (who had a small part in war drama Utomlennye solntsem 2 (2011)) is well cast as the diminutive Naydenov, his appearance is the complete opposite of that expected from a typical war movie hero and his thousand-yard stare is chilling.
White Tiger is not going to be to all tastes. War and historical movie fans should certainly enjoy the beautifully filmed tanks and CGI free action scenes, but might be put off by the surrealist, art-house storytelling and particularly the enigmatic ending. Fans of Tarkovsky should enjoy the narrative flow but might be put off by the explosive action sequences. Provided that you go into the film expecting a combination of art-house and war movie, there is a lot to enjoy here and it comes highly recommended.
|Anyone famous in it?||No-one well known.|
|Directed by anyone interesting?||Karen Shakhnazarov - a Russian director who has helmed a number of historical films including UK co-production Tsareubiytsa (1991) starring Malcolm McDowell and Vsadnik po imeni Smert (2004).|
|Any gore or violence ?||Some blood and charred corpses but nothing vivid.|
|Any sex or nudity?||None.|
|Who is it for?||Of interest to fans of both art-house and well made war films.
|Visuals||Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The clean digital print, no transfer issues.
|Audio||Russian 2.0 stereo - sounds clear throughout.|
|Subtitles||English (burnt into the print) - no problems.|
|Region||Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL|
|Other regions?||Available in the US on DVD from Entertainment One specs unconfirmed. German release as White Tiger includes 5.1 Russian audio as well as a 5.1 German dub but only German subtitles.|
|Cuts?||Believed to be fully uncut. Print language is Russian.|