Friday, 14 August 2015

Attack on Leningrad (2009)

I suspect that many of us instinctively think of sieges as being a medieval phenomenon, becoming obsolete with the invention of powerful gunpowder weapons.  In actual fact one of the greatest sieges in human history occurred in the 20th century.

It's true that at a mere 882 days in length, the siege of Leningrad (now St Petersburg) cannot compare in duration to the 21 year siege of Candia (now Heraklion).  But the Nazi envelopment of the city during World War 2 is one of the most destructive sieges in history, and in terms of human lives, it is by far the most costly.  Total deaths are estimated at 1.5 million.  To put that number in context, it is more than the total war dead suffered by the United Kingdom, the United States, and Italy.  Combined.

This film revolves around a British journalist who accidentally becomes trapped in the city - presumably a nod toward making the film more accessible to English-speaking audiences - and the Soviet citizens with whom she interacts.  In particular, a pair of children and a female police constable.

Now this is a film about a bleak time in history, and make no mistake that it is a bleak film. It is not a movie where everyone gets a happy ending.  Nor even one where they all get the endings they deserve. So it will not be to all tastes.  But it is also a film about two women who go through an astonishingly challenging and frightening experience with dignity and strength and compassion.  Whatever their fate may be - the film deserves more than for me to spoil it - they win a victory simply from the way they face it.

Worth your time if you are okay with subtitles (significant portions of the film are in English, but much of it is in Russian or German), and the grim subject matter.

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