THE WAR IN THE EAST THROUGH SOVIET EYES:
Until the 1990s and the final fall of Communism in the former Soviet Union, a great deal of film, both documentary and drama, about the Great Patriotic War was almost completely off-limits to the West. This included a great deal of captured German archival material, which was locked away in vaults and only re-discovered in the following century. Still, a great deal of these materials are still hard to come by west of the Bug river and nearly completely unknown across the Atlantic.
This DVD attempts to provide the viewer with an idea of how people in the Soviet Union saw the War in the East in their own cinemas. It consists of three parts meant to reflect two major periods in the War: the catastrophic beginning and the turn of the tide against the invaders.
FILM ONE: WE AWAIT YOUR VICTORIOUS RETURN (My zhdyom Vas s Pobyedoi) (1941):
Made very shortly after the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the film's tone betrays a hopeful, but also naive, belief, that in spite of the overwhelmingly catastrophic advances by the Germans and their allies into Soviet territory, that victory would doubtless be a Soviet one. Both the songs and the military uniforms displayed in the film put the production of the film somewhere between July and September 1941. The film's intention is obvious: to reassure an anxious and confused civilian population and provide a much needed morale boost to both them and the soldiers going off to a very uncertain future. The people's anxiety and the not-so-convincing display of confidence in the final victory comes clearly across in the film; though, in hindsight, we know now exactly why they were so nervous.
The film is not subtitled and, no doubt, there is quite a bit in here which would benefit from subtitles. BUT: most of the film consists of dancing and music and folk ensemble displays and you won't need much imagination to figure out what is going on even when there are no subtitles to help. It's entertaining and it's lighthearted ... even somewhat in the somber scenes of young men leaving for war. Unfortunately, the anxiety felt at the time the movie was made was to get only worse a year later when the Germans marched their way to the border of Asian Russia.
IN RUSSIAN. USED, BUT WATCHABLE, VHS QUALITY WITH NO SUBTITLES. APPROX. 34 MINS.
FILM TWO: RED ARMY PARADE ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE REVOLUTION (1941):
By the 24th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in the USSR, the Germans were literally at the gates to Moscow, the country's capital. It was perhaps the lowest point for the Soviets in their struggle against the Germans from 1941 to 1945. With most of the Soviet government fleeing in great haste and disorder to the East, it appeared the Germans were going to take Moscow -- and perhaps finish off the USSR -- in a very short time. It was at this lowpoint in the War that Stalin did perhaps his greatest service to the Soviet Union by refusing to flee the capital and by taking time off to show the soldiers his presence at the annual celebratory parade for the Revolution in November 1941. It was to be another month before the Germans were definitively and forever stopped before Moscow and the first successful Soviet counterattack launched, which pushed the Germans back over 200 miles. But at the time of this film, those soldiers whom you see on the screen marched straight from the parade to the front lines and into German fire.
There are no subtitles, but they're really not needed anyhow. It's pretty obvious what is going on.
IN RUSSIAN. USED, BUT WATCHABLE, VHS QUALITY WITH NO SUBTITLES. APPROX. 7 MINS.
FILM THREE: THE BATTLE FOR OUR SOVIET UKRAINE (1943):
The Germans and their allies have been defeated at Stalingrad. The Red Army has finally begun a sustainable counteroffensive. After the Battle of Kursk in July 1943, the tide has definitively turned against the Germans and they will no longer be able to launch a large offensive operation against the Soviets again. This film was made sometime in September/October 1943. It is undated, but Kharkov has been liberated (September 1943: again and for the last time) and Kiev has not yet been taken back (November 1943). This film briefly traces pre-War history in the Ukraine, the German invasion and the battles to take it back. All the historical facts you would not expect to see in a Soviet film -- the massive battlefield errors and losses by the Soviets; the huge numbers of prisoners taken; the unpopularity of the Soviets and the collaboration of the locals; etc. -- you won't see here. In this film, all Ukrainians are victims, none collaborated. The Ukraine flourished under Soviet rule. They are welcomed back by all during "liberation" and the 15,000 Jews in Kharkov executed by the Germans are referred to as "citizens". In spite of all that, however, the propaganda is pretty much kept to a minimum and there are scenes never before scene in the West -- including captured German material, which, although sometimes used in an incorrect chronological fashion, are knitted together with contemporary Soviet films quite well.
The film has hard-encoded Italian subtitles, which might be a little annoying underneath the thankfully-brighter-colored English subs (optional) and the film quality is decent.
IN RUSSIAN WITH HARD-ENCODED ITALIAN SUBTITLES AND OPTIONAL ENGLISH SUBTITLES. DECENT VHS QUALITY. APPROX. 69 MINS.
APPROXIMATELY 110 MINUTES TOTAL.