5 Reasons to See New Russian WWII Movie “The Pilot: A Battle for Survival”


Renat Davletyarov / Interfest, Star Media, DaProduction, 2021

The recently released film combines the epic “Dunkirk” of Christopher Nolan with the heavy atmosphere of “The Revenant”. The shoot included a real refurbished Il-2 ground attack aircraft, as well as real trained wolves.

1. Based on real events and genuine heroism

We are in December 1941. The Battle of Moscow is in full swing. A Soviet Il-2 ground attack aircraft, commanded by Nikolai Komlev, fired at a column of German armored vehicles, then came under heavy fire from enemy anti-aircraft systems and fighter jets. The Soviet pilot is hit, crashes into enemy territory, and is then forced to undertake a difficult and perilous return journey through the dense winter woods, crawling with German patrols and starving wolf packs.

The film is based on the true story of Aleksey Maresyev, whose fighter plane was shot down in April 1942 over the Novgorod region. For 18 days, the injured pilot had to crawl back on his own. Doctors managed to save her life, but had to amputate both of her legs. This, however, did not break Maresyev: after intensive training with prosthetics, he managed to earn the right to sit again in the cockpit of a fighter plane.

The character of Komlev in the film is a composite of several heroic biographies, including Maresyev and other Soviet pilots who managed to return to service after losing their legs and continue to face the enemy in the sky. Their stories are briefly shown at the end of the film.

2. A real WWII plane was used for the filming

The Soviet Il-2 is given one of the main roles in “The Pilot: A Battle for Survival” – no CGI involved, it is a real WWII ground attack aircraft. It is reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”, who also used real war machines.

During the November 1943 mission, Valentin Skopintsev’s Il-2 – part of the 46th Air Assault Regiment of the Northern Fleet’s Air Force – was attacked by enemy fighters and, after sustaining heavy damage , was forced to land on ice in a lake in the Murmansk region, where it then sank. It spent almost 70 years underwater until in 2012 it was removed and refurbished. In 2017, the Il-2 took off again.

“When this thing happened for the shoot, we cried – it was so awesome,” said Petr Fedorov, who is playing the lead role. “The contract didn’t allow me to pilot it, so my stuntman, Vladimir Barsuk, took my place – he was the only one who could pilot this machine. This guy, who had a device with a camera, capable of shooting 360-degree videos, arrived. We strapped him to a helicopter, and he was flying and filming the Il-2. ”

In December 1941, the film period, the Red Air Force had a one-person Il-2 ground attack aircraft, while the two-person variant (with room for a machine gunner) didn’t go into production until 1943. Why ‘The Pilot’ featured the two-person version of the plane, director Renat Davletyarov said: “There were some 40,000 of these planes made during the war. But at the moment, there are only two left. One of them is in Canada – it is part of a private collection; and one is in Russia. And I couldn’t refuse to use a unique Il-2 – especially since the Il-2, just like the “Katyusha” and the T-34 [tank] are symbols of this war. So we got the idea that it was an experimental model that would soon be mass-produced. “

3. “The Pilot” is like “The Revenant” from the WWII era

Devlatyarov confessed that “The Revenant”, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, has become one of the main sources of inspiration for “The Pilot”. That’s because Komlev’s story isn’t just about captivating dogfights in the air, but a fierce battle for survival on the ground – against the Germans and the wilderness.

“What are Russian woods like in winter?” If you are locked in a beautiful resort with your girlfriend, going for a ski ride – that’s beauty. If you are hurt, soaked, hungry, it is death. The river, which must be crossed on foot, is death. Nothing to snack on – it’s death. Hungry wolves is death. An icy desert, where, behind every bush, death awaits, ”said the director.

4. The shooting was done in real extreme conditions

The creators tried to make “The Pilot” as realistic as possible: the shooting was carried out in winter, in the wild and remote region of the Novgorod region – the place where Maresyev’s plane actually crashed. . Actor Petr Fedorov had to repeatedly enter ice water, froze for hours in an icy wind and even eat raw fish, frozen in blocks of ice.

5. Real wolves were used

Komlev’s greatest opponents on the ground were not German soldiers, but a pack of wild wolves who relentlessly pursued him. In the meantime, they did not use dogs – as we usually do on a shoot, but real “forest caregivers”.

Wolves Shakira, Yukki, Drago and a Czechoslovakian wolfdog (a Carpathian wolf and a Czechoslovak shepherd hybrid) named Sarkus were brought in for filming in the remote forest of the Novgorod region from the animal sanctuary “Kashir” to the outside Moscow. These unique artists took part in many key scenes which included long runs, approaching pits, and even mimicking human attacks. It should be noted that wolves are notoriously difficult to train!

“There were difficulties every day,” said Anna Ponomareva, a dog handler. “Let it be the wind by the lake that made our voices inaudible, the wolves not hearing our orders. Or Draco would panic and refuse to attack the human. A wolf ended up taking his place. And all the tooth carriers were also her. While the pit jump was performed by Sarkus. After all, we couldn’t come to an agreement with the wolves.

One of the days required the capture of an angry wolf howl, but the crew couldn’t get the animals to display the appropriate emotion. The problem was not resolved until an old Central Asian Shepherd Dog was brought in.

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