Karen Shakhnazarov is allegedly one of Russia's top modern day filmmakers he is also the Director General of Mosfilm Film Studio, often described as the largest and oldest studio not just in Russia but also in Europe. Famously used during the Soviet era for films made by Tarkovsky and Eisenstein as well as by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa who worked there in 1975 on the must see Dersu Uzala.
Shakhnazarov's latest movie White Tiger (2012) was selected as the Russian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards but unfortunately did not make the final short list. Based on a novel by Ilya Boyashov entitled The Tank Crewman and featuring music by Richard Wagner, the film is set in WW2 in the summer of 1943 on the Russian Front.
In a burnt out tank a man is found on the brink of death with 90% burns. He is taken to a field hospital where in a remarkably short time he recovers completely. He can not remember his name or details but strangely has retained his skill as one of Russia's great tank drivers. Given the name Ivan Naydenov (from the Russian word for ‘found’) he is sent back to the front to re-join his tank squadron. Naydenov (Aleksey Vertkov) admits to his commanding officer that he now has the ability to communicate with tanks! At first his colleges humour him but they gradually come to believe that there is something in his claims. In the meantime rumours arise about a new, invincible German tank that appears seemingly out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly, destroying dozens of Soviet tanks in the process. This mysterious ghost tank is dubbed "White Tiger" by the Soviet forces.
A three man tank crew consisting of gunner, a loader and of course Naydenov has been set up to take control of a specially adapted tank to track down the Tiger. Naydenov obsession with tanks has now got to the stage where he is praying to the God of tanks. They finally catch up with this giant battle machine, after it has wiped out a whole squadron of Russian tanks, in a deserted township and the two tanks line up like an old-fashioned western gunfight. Naydenov and his crew have the upper hand until the gun barrel on their tank explodes and the Tiger makes it escape. Shortly after this incident we witness the German high command surrendering to the Russians, papers are signed and the war is virtually over but Ivan Naydenov informs his commanding officer that he will never rest until he has destroyed the White Tiger even if it takes him the rest of his life.
Authentic acting from the cast with superb manipulation of the tanks, the movie is so believable and gritty you can almost smell the mud and taste the desolation. Without trying to inject a spoiler the ending is quite strange with Adolf Hitler making an appearance coupled with a speech about the inevitability of war! In fact both the final surrender and Hitler’s scene could almost have come from an entirely different movie! This is the director’s first war film and a jolly unusual one, but one that sits effectively between a fantasy and an authentic war movie. The White Tiger is said to represent a mystic incarnation of the German spirit and when Naydenov declares that the White Tiger will return he is obviously referring to the future rise of Fascism in Europe and as our hero says of the Tank "he’s waiting, he is, he will wait twenty years, fifty, maybe a hundred.”