April 03, 2020
By Marco Vorobiev
Looking for something to watch while avoiding the Coronavirus at home? Tired of rewatching the same old war movies? Well, here are three exciting war movies you probably have never heard about as they were filmed in Russia! World War II, or the Great Patriotic War, is a big deal to Russians. It was a big deal for the Soviet Union and is an even bigger deal for Russia today. The Soviets paid an inconceivable price of 27 million lives for their victory over Nazi Germany. Generations were brought up on patriotism stemming from the War. The Soviet and now Russian Cinematography paid its dues by producing a significant number of War motion pictures over the years. While many of these are excellent, they are basically unknown to the vast majority of Americans. This is especially unfortunate for firearms enthusiasts interested in Russian and ComBloc small arms. During a discussion about this with our editor he requested I introduce the best of Soviet and Russian war movies to our readers.
To begin I will separate the Soviet/Russian war movies into three main categories. The first is the Soviet period movies that tell stories of successful epic offensive operations highlighting the ingenious strategic and tactical abilities of Soviet Commanders. These pictures, although interesting from historic point of view had a heavy Government “influence” with propaganda in mind. These were produced by all Soviet studios as if per mandatory quota.
The second category of Soviet war movies actually had a human-interest story line weaved through the movie with a great degree of authenticity. These pictures were watched by everyone. Even today Russians would still crowd theaters to see a re-release of their beloved movies.
The third category is a modern Russian production big screen and made for TV movies and series. The sheer amount of these is hard to shovel through. Authenticity of the period is gone. So is the acting in a classical sense, especially by the modern Russian female leads. However, there is a gem every now and again.
So, I did the shoveling for you and will try to recommend some war pictures that you will really enjoy watching. It is worth noting that all Soviet actors were classically trained with no exceptions. The acting craft in the Soviet Union was taken very seriously. The roots of the classical acting schools in Russia go back to Stanislavsky, Nemirovich and Danchenko whose theory is today taught around the world. Additionally, some of the actors in the Soviet war movies were veterans themselves adding much needed authenticity to every scene. One more thing – no CGI.
My first recommendation is the 5-part “Liberation” (Освобождение – Osvobozhdenie) series. This series was released for the big screen in five parts in 1969-72 and it was filmed jointly with several foreign studios. The series starts with its first film “the Fire Arc” about the Battle of Kursk and ends with “The Last Assault” about the last days of the War. Viewers follow the lives of several characters though the films. This series is an excellent example of a no expense spared State sponsored epic achievement. However, it does not take away from the quality and authenticity of all five pictures in this series.
My next selection is one of my personal favorite war movies of all time –“They fought for their Motherland” (Они сражались за Родину – Oni srazhalis za Rodinu). It was filmed in 1976 and based on a book by Mikhail Sholokhov. The film tells the story of a company-size remnant from an infantry regiment retreating to Stalingrad for resupply and re-enforcement. Several actors in this picture were veterans of the War. This film marks the beginning of large-scale “Hollywood” style productions in Soviet cinema. The acting is impeccable, the battle scenes and dialogue are priceless. If a subtitled version can be found everyone should watch it. If not, it is still worthwhile watching anyway.
My next favorite picture is “The Dawns here are quiet” (А зори здесь тихие – A zori zdes tikhiye). It was filmed in 1972 and tells a story of a NCO who is in charge of an anti-aircraft gun crew who happen to be women. While guarding a remote area on the Soviet North-West frontier they come across and take on a superior force of German paratroopers. This motion picture was immensely popular with Soviet viewers. It is a tragic human interest story with plenty of action. Modern production companies trying to capitalize on the lasting popularity of this movie produced two remakes. Neither one comes close to the original or even worth the time to read their description. Remember, watch the 1972 original! (Editor’s Note- A fantastic film but will make you want to take an E-tool to Nazis. Highly recommended.)
Russia was also busy making movies about the other conflicts in its long and colorful past. One of the most notable recent Russian war movies is the “9th Company”. Based on true events, this movie tells the story of the 9th Company of Separate 345th Airborne Regiment that was quartered in Bagram during the Soviet-Afghan Campaign. A well done film with its share of drama, action and gunfire with lots of Kalashnikovs. Not bad even though the filmmakers took a lot of creative liberties.
My favorite Afghan War film is one of the last Soviet war movies – “Afghan Break” (Афганский излом – Afghanskiy izlom). It was released in 1991 and appears very authentic. It may be safe to assume that some of the scenes were filmed in Afghanistan. The war was just ending when production on the movie began. The film is exceptionally well done. Attention to the details is uncompromised. It really is a gold mine of footage for those who love and collect Soviet gear and firearms. Highly recommended.
From the most recent Afghan War inspired flicks one stands out. It is a made for TV series called “Hunters for Caravans” (Охотники за караванами – Okhotniki za karavanami). This series depicts the story of a Soviet Spetsnaz unit hunting down a Stinger missile. The filmmakers tried to keep the cinematography as authentic as possible. And, they’ve succeeded to a certain degree. However, the budget restraints of a TV movie production are evident throughout the film. Nevertheless, the viewer will get chance to enjoy the tactics and equipment deployed by the Soviet Spetsnaz. As a bonus the acting is decent as well. If some, or all of these pique your interest a bit of time spent on Amazon.com or youtube.com should turn all of them, and more up complete with English subtitles. Happy watching.
About the Author: Marco Vorobiev served in the Soviet Spetsnaz with service in Afghanistan.