First and Only Soviet Women War Flick

This patient, epic piece of late-Soviet propa-drama—nominated for a 1972 foreign-film Oscar and then summarily forgotten—might just be the only war film in which the beleaguered infantry is made up entirely of women. After a lonely Karelian outpost implodes during WW II because of the soldiers' yen for the local women, they're all replaced—sans the captain (Andrei Martynov)—by ably trained female volunteers, all of them eager, fresh-faced comrades, each with her own fragile hopes for the future. Soon, a Nazi party is spotted in the forest, and as the soldiers' grizzled C.O. leads them into a confrontation, he becomes a tortured father figure, racked between duty and guardian-guilt. Of course, the women turn out to be hardcore, machine-gun-toting warriors, but without being caricatured. No less in-your-face than a Sam Fuller film (he would've appreciated the scenario's gender-blender ironies), the movie is also periodically fascinating for how it demonstrates the mileage between American triumphalism and its antipodal Soviet mind-set, for which pop cinema veered more commonly toward annihilating tragedy. (A haphazard death in a malignant swamp is particularly upsetting.) The Politburo chest-swelling impedes, but it's still a more genuine portrait of wartime costs than most pre–Carter administration stateside films. The extras include contemporary interviews with the actresses, a retrospective doc, stills, and 13 subtitle-language options.

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