Any stu­dent of World War II knows that the bat­tle of Stalingrad is the place where the tide turned again­st the Third Reich, a loss that kick­start­ed the decline that would even­tu­al­ly result in their defeat. However, this turn­ing point took a long time to occur and left count­less thou­sands dead on both sides of the bat­tle before it was all over. Those swept up in the nar­ra­tive of his­to­ry can often for­get the immense per­son­al cost that under­writes the turns of that nar­ra­tive — and the three-part doc­u­men­tary minis­eries Stalingrad pro­vides a pow­er­ful tes­ta­ment to how that human cost looks, sounds and feels.

Stalingrad’s approach to its mate­ri­al is a mix­ture of the famil­iar and the unusu­al. In clas­sic doc­u­men­tary style, it mix­es inter­views and oft-har­row­ing file footage of the bat­tle of Stalingrad as it cre­ates a nar­ra­tive in three parts: the first seg­ment chron­i­cles the events the cul­mi­nate in the Nazi attack on Stalingrad, the sec­ond seg­ment focus­es on how Russians Stalingr-bluturned the tables on the Germans and trapped them in the now war-scarred city on all sides and the third seg­ment deals with the defeat of the Germans and the battle’s after­math.

What makes Stalingrad unique is that it does not iden­ti­fy the Russian and German sur­vivors who cre­ate the oral-his­to­ry por­tion of its nar­ra­tive nor does it focus on a few par­tic­u­lar sto­ries to give it an eas­i­ly digestible nar­ra­tive spine. Instead, it con­cen­trates on get­ting a large num­ber of peo­ple to provide vignettes with­out reveal­ing their names. In doing so, it forces the view­er to con­cen­trate on the recur­ring themes of the sto­ry­li­nes they tell: sol­diers forced to fol­low lead­er­ship that march­es them into death, fam­i­lies being torn apart by the call to war and bat­tle between dehu­man­iz­ing your ene­my ver­sus try­ing to hold onto human­i­ty in des­per­ate times.

The result­ing series is pow­er­ful because it man­ages to make such a huge con­flict seem so per­son­al. Writers and co-direc­tors Sebastian Dehnhardt and Jorg Mullner pull this off by avoid­ing get­ting caught up in sta­tis­tics and tra­di­tion­al war nar­ra­tives. Instead, it’s a steady stream of peo­ple who were on the ground, being affect­ed by the events up-close and in real time, telling you what hap­pened to them and the lin­ger­ing sor­row they cope with. This abil­i­ty to make the polit­i­cal per­son­al makes Stalingrad a unique­ly pow­er­ful World War II doc­u­men­tary.

Blu-Ray Notes: Stalingrad was pre­vi­ous­ly released as a DVD by Synapse and has recent­ly been revis­it­ed for a blu-ray by the same com­pa­ny. The results look impres­sive, with the present day HD footage look­ing appro­pri­ate­ly col­or­ful and detailed while the vin­tage file footage has a new clar­i­ty and depth. The audio is a loss­less 2.0 stereo mix that deliv­ers the dia­logue-dri­ven sound design in a clear, robust man­ner.

This disc also car­ries over the extras includ­ed on the pre­vi­ous DVD. The first is a 17 min­ute set of inter­view snip­pets not used in the film. There is also an 11 min­ute inter­view with super­vis­ing pro­duc­er Guido Knopp. Finally, a 3 min­ute seg­ment enti­tled “Stalingrad Today” allows the view­er to see what the city looks like: though it is rebuilt and mod­ern, scars of the World War II bat­tles can still be seen.