A powerfully evocative film set on the Russian front in World War II, The Last Train turns its grim subject matter into electrifying filmmaking. In its relentless realism and gripping moral power, this first feature by Alexei German, Jr. brings to mind the work his father, acclaimed St. Petersburg director Alexei German, and his masterpiece Twenty Days Without War. Making a clean break with old-style Soviet patriotism, the film recounts the tragedy of war without taking sides. The main characters, in fact, are not Russians at all, but soldiers of the Third Reich. The corpulent and far from heroic doctor Paul Fishbach (Pavel Romanov), drafted late in the war when Germany's defeat was already evident, arrives too late to take part in the conflict. He reaches his field hospital in the midst of a blizzard and a general evacuation, and spends the rest of the film trudging through the woods with an idealistic, half-crazed soldier towards an invisible front line. In their determination to show the real face of war on the Eastern Front, the actors cough, wheeze, and gasp for breath. Bundled in army coats against the Russian winter, they create a sense of misery and dread without firing a shot; death, when it comes, is ignoble and disgusting. Much of the film's power comes from cinematographer Oleg Lukichev's striking black and white images and long tracking shots that gradually reveal details in the driving snow.
Aleksei German, Jr. was born in 1976 in Moscow and raised in St. Petersburg. In 1996, he was accepted to the VGIK (State Institute of Cinema), in Moscow, and graduated in 2001. Since then, German has worked at the Lenfilm Studio, and directed the short films Standard (1998), The Large Autumn Field (1999), and Little Fools (2001). His first feature film, The Last Train (2003), won the Amnesty International - DOEN Award at the 2004 International Film Festival Rotterdam.