Saturday, November 30, 2019

MINISERIES: The Dawns Here Are Quiet (2015)

                        The Soviet Union made a lot of good WWII movies like “Come and See” and “Ballad of a Soldier”.  My favorite is “The Dawns Here Are Quiet” which came out in 1972.  The movie was very popular and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film by the Academy Awards.  It was based on a novella by Boris Vasilyev.  Vasilyev was a veteran of WWII. He volunteered in 1941 and was first in a “destruction battalion” which was a paramilitary unit under the control of the NKVD (basically the Soviet Gestapo).  Later he served in an airborne division until he was wounded in 1943.  He became a writer after the war and was noted for writing “lieutenant prose”.  This referred to novels written by lower ranking officers.  Usually the protagonist was a junior officer (like the author) and the plots involved brave acts in the face of bad conditions.  The subgenre was not overly patriotic and tended to remark on the hellish aspects of the war.  A new version of the classic was released in 2015 in theaters and then an extended version was shown on Russian TV in four 45 minute segments.

                        The movie is set in Karelia (near Finland) in probably 1942.  Sgt. Major Vaskov (Pyotr Fyodorov) is in command of an anti-aircraft unit in a small village.  He was wounded at the front and assigned this unglamorous job.  His men don’t take it seriously and do a lot of wining and wenching.  He complains to his superior and asks for replacements that don’t drink or screw around.  Be careful what you ask for.  He receives a half platoon of women.  Vaskov is thrown for a loop by his new subordinates who love pushing his buttons.  He insists on discipline, but you can’t simply treat them like they are men.  For instance, he has to build an outhouse for them.  A scene with the women in a steam bath will point out to the audience that they are definitely not males.  But they are soldiers.  When a German reconnaissance plane passes over the village, they competently shoot it down with their anti-aircraft gun.  A few days later, two German paratroopers are sighted in the forest.  Vaskov is ordered to take five of the women and track down the suspected saboteurs.  They set off and are shocked to discover that the two Germans are actually part of a sixteen man unit.  Vaskov decides their mission will be to keep the Germans from reaching their destination.  What started off as something of an adventure for the girls, becomes deadly serious.  But Vaskov is willing to teach and they are willing to learn.   The odds are very bad, however.

                        It must have been a risky idea to remake the beloved original, but Renat Davletyarov (director, producer, and co-writer) pulls it off.  He does not tamper with the plot much and most of the dialogue is retained.   Because he has more time to play with, he is able to flesh out the six characters more.  The original used flashbacks to give back-stories for the five women.  This version does more flashing back and is able to fill in information  where the original made you fill in the gaps yourself.  The original used a surreal approach to the flash-backs.  They were filmed in color and mostly on a spare sound stage.  Davletyarov wisely did not try to copy that.   Other than providing more information, this version is faithful to the point that the younger generation does not really need to see the original.  All of the deaths are very similar to the movie and just as poignant.  The strongest point of both versions are the unpredictable and memorable deaths.  I also commend the movie and miniseries for not forcing romance into the plot.  The dilemma the six are placed in develops comradeship and respect, not physical love.

                         The Soviet Union has to be third behind the U.S. and Great Britain when it comes to quality WWII movies.  That tradition seems to be continuing in Russia today.  Granted, this movie is not original, but it is technically sound.  The cinematography is good and the forest terrain is used effectively.  It is not as showy as the original, but you’ll notice it.  The acting is excellent.  Pyotr Fyodorov has some big shoes to fill in the role made famous by Andrey Martynov and I think he does an even better job as Vaskov.  The actresses playing the quintet of females are great.  The personalities of the five are well-defined and all are appealing figures.  By the end of the movie, you really care about them.  I had to fight back tears at times.  As an homage to all the women who served the Fatherland in WWII, the movie is very effective.  Even the original is not overly patriotic or propagandistic, but I would think women who see either film will be proud of their gender.

                        If you have Amazon Prime, take advantage of its nice collection of foreign war movies and series.  Don’t let the subtitles scare you away.  “The Dawns Here Are Quiet” is an outstanding movie.  It improves on the great original by expanding the story to cover the five women in more detail.  They deserved it.  Although in the tradition of the heterogeneous small unit on a suicide mission subgenre, it is not cliché-ridden.  In fact, it is a pretty unique movie. 


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