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article imageReview: TIFF 2018: ‘Kursk’ is frustrating because you know how it ends Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 14, 2018 in Entertainment
‘Kursk’ doesn’t care if you know how it ends because the arrogance that caused the end result and people who were affected by it are far more important.
It takes a talented filmmaker to create a movie based on historical events in which audiences can still become absorbed even though they already know how the story will end. The greatest success is causing the viewer to hope against hope that somehow a tragic ending can be transformed into a happy one. Titanic is probably the most obvious example of such an achievement, but there have been others before and since. War movies are similar in that the events portrayed are familiar, though the fates of the particular characters are not always known. In Kursk, it’s an implicit conflict that led to the deaths of more than two dozen men.
In August 2000, the Russian Navy engaged in its first major exercise since the end of the Soviet Union. A few days before the best crew in the Northern Fleet would board the unsinkable K-141 Kursk submarine, they celebrated the wedding of one of their comrades, which Captain-Lieutenant Mikhail Kalekov (Matthias Schoenaerts) ensured was the best possible night for the newlyweds. Saying goodbye to his pregnant wife (Léa Seydoux) and son, Kalekov and the others launched the ill-fated vessel. Shortly after, an explosion rocks the ship and immediately kills many of the men; but Kalekov and a couple dozen other survivors find safety in a sealed rear compartment with enough food and air to last until the rescue… if it occurs in a timely manner.
Weddings at the start of a movie about the military is almost always a bad omen, which is ironic since they’re meant to be such joyous occasions. The crew is a family and this comes through in almost everything they do together and how they interact with each other. But they also have families who await their return to the mainland and who fiercely demand senior officials do more to rescue their husbands/sons/brothers/fathers. Seydoux resolutely leads this charge, defying cultural norms that command order and not questioning those in authority. Based on the novel, A Time to Die, by Robert Moore, Robert Rodat’s script portrays the key decision-makers as a group of, proud, stubborn, unconscionable old men who refuse the essential assistance offered by their allies in the name of so-called national security, even if that’s not the story being shared with the families.
Colin Firth leads Russia’s British counterparts who determine the Soviet equipment is not up to snuff in spite of the multiple assurances by various Russian brass that they can handle it themselves; thus, they along with Norway and France offer the use of their own rescue teams. In the meantime there is a literal ticking clock as each minute pushes the trapped crew closer to death, even though they’re doing everything in their power to stay alive until help arrives. In addition to being incredibly suspenseful, the narrative is exceedingly frustrating since it highlights the many mistakes that prevented the successful rescue of the survivors.
The editing maintains a thrilling pace that director Thomas Vinterberg skilfully uses to grip the audience as the film moves towards its inevitable conclusion. The practical water effects and sets, including a daring underwater swim for supplies, also go a long way to enhancing the realism of the picture. This film honours the victims and their families with its sincere depiction of events, but more importantly of the people affected by this avoidable tragedy.
Kursk had its world premiere in the Special Presentations category at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2018 coverage.
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Léa Seydoux, Colin Firth and Matthias Schoenaerts
More about Kursk, TIFF 2015, Matthias Schoenaerts, Lea Seydoux, Colin firth
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