Thursday, April 24, 2014

Film Atlas (Russia): The Dawns Here Are Quiet

Country: Russia
Title: The Dawns Here Are Quiet / A Zori Zdes Tikhie (1972)
Sometime during WWII Sergeant Vaskov is running an unimportant anti-aircraft encampment far from the German front. Discipline is slack and the base has a reputation for drinking, carousal and fraternization with the local women. After failing a military inspection, Vaskov’s men are reassigned and he's given new soldiers less susceptible to the same old problems: an all women unit. Vaskov initially has trouble taking the new recruits seriously, maintaining authority and crafting them into an effective fight force, but he soon warms to them and earns their trust. In the second part of the film Vaskov leads a small team of five women to capture German paratroopers that were seen landing in a nearby forest. After crossing difficult terrain they find themselves facing a superior force, better trained and better armed. Vaskov and the five women are put to the test, knowing they have little chance of survival.

The nostalgia-saturated lightly-comedic first act of The Dawns Here Are Quiet caused me to drop my guard. I enjoyed the send-up of laidback military outposts, the mildly gender-progressive character development and the black-and-white woodland and swampland scenery, but I quickly and quite wrongly wrote this off as not likely to be the classic war film that Russian critics had claimed. That’s because director Stanislav Rostotsky carefully ‘carefree’ setup is all about drawing you in so that when the tone switches to a war-is-hell, guns-can-jam, anyone-can-die game of cat-and-mouse you just aren’t prepared, much like the main characters. 

Rostotsky does an excellent job establishing the stakes despite the small-scale (6 vs. 16) of this obscure skirmish. The limited cast helps means more time to establish each woman individually, counter to the genre’s tendency for spectacle-driven clashes between waves of faceless grunts. We grow to understand and like these Soviet soldiers; to know their strengths and weaknesses. We share Vaskov’s pride in their bravery, cunning, stealth and increasing competence; like many of the best war films, this is about outthinking an opponent that you can’t outgun. We also feel Vaskov’s pain, cracking through his stoic face, as he accepts their likely fates.

My Favorites:
The Dawns Here Are Quiet
Ivan's Childhood
Leviathan (2014)
Letter Never Sent
Hamlet (1964)
Come and See
The Mirror
Wings (1966)
Happiness (1934)
Strike (1925)
I Am Twenty
Trial on the Road
The New Gulliver
Solaris (1972)
The Cranes Are Flying
Battleship Potemkin
King Lear (1971)
The Return
Burnt by the Sun
The Forty-First
The Ascent
The Amphibious Man
The Cat Who Walked By Herself
The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1966)
Jolly Fellows / Moscow Laughs

Major Directors:
Boris Barnet, Yevgeni Bauer, Mark Donskoi, Sergei Eisenstein, Mikhail Kalatozov, Marlen Khutsiev, Nikita Mikhalkov, Kira Muratova, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Larisa Shepitko, Alexander Sokurov, Andrei Tarkovsky

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