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First and Only Soviet Women War Flick

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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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