It’s Lithuanians vs. the Soviets in The Invisible Front


The opening-credits sequence of Jonas Ohman and Vincas Sruoginis’s documentary The Invisible Front fetishizes evidential materials: files, folders, photos, documents, passports, envelopes.

This emphasis turns out to be more than window dressing: To quote the film’s narrator, the historical drama depicted here — the Lithuanian resistance to Soviet invasion during the 1940s — was one in which “the control of information was more important than armed conflict.” Befitting a doc about a data-intensive struggle, the movie benefits from a wealth of resources — interview subjects, archival TV footage, context-setting narration — for its telling of the story of the Forest Brothers, an underground resistance movement of Lithuanians, many of them young students.

The mode is both historical overview and character portrait, with one of the group’s most influential leaders, Juozas Luksa, prioritized and venerated through recited passages from his memoir and talking-head testimony from his widow, Nijole Brazenaite. At one point, she reads his love letters. The Forest Brothers’ goals went unrealized in their time: It wasn’t until just over two decades ago that Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to reclaim its independence. But the movie convincingly conveys the inspiring legacy Luksa and his group left behind. In frequent pans across present-day homesteads in the region, the filmmakers almost seem to be searching for some actual physical residue of the Brothers’ efforts.

The conventional visual reenactments (some captured on 16mm) are less satisfactory. By the end, the movie amps up its suspense so far — with the formidable strings of Olafur Arnalds’s “3326” accompanying the telling of Luksa’s death — that it appears to be striving for the effect of a full-fledged dramatic treatment.