Ashes in the Snow (2018)
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We have long since been educated on just how cruel humans can and have been to other humans, and director Markevicius - with a script from Ben York Jones (LIKE CRAZY, 2011) - doesn't shy away from the cruelty or atrocities, but he and cinematographer Ramunus Greicius capture the harshness and brutality of the Siberian environment, as well as the brief moments when those being held captive feel sparks of life.
Bel Powley (THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, 2015) stars as Lina, a young Lithuanian artist who lives with her family: mother Elena (Lisa Loven Kongsli, FORCE MAJEUR) and brother Jonas (Tom Sweet). The father/husband is played by Sam Hazeldine and we learn of his secret agenda and activism later in the film. When Russian troops forcibly remove mother and the two kids from their home, a long train ride ends with their working the fields in the Altai Labor Camp in Siberia.
Martin Wallstrom is excellent as Kretzky, a conflicted Russian soldier from the Ukraine. He's kind of persona non-grata on both sides, and as an outsider to the troops and the "devil" to the prisoners, he is somewhat of a sympathetic character. A year later (1942), the family and Officer Kretzky are shipped off to Laptev Sea in the Arctic Circle. This frozen tundra is no place for human beings and death seems preferable to freezing in misery. When giving the relocation order, Kretzky's commanding officer calls them "one big happy family in frozen hell". It's a great line. An acutely descriptive line.
Young Lina's childhood innocence has been shattered, but she possesses an inner strength that only such miserable circumstances could unveil. She carries on finding brief respites in her art and in fleeting romance with fellow prisoner Andrius (Jonah Hauer-King).
There is a story told, a legend really, about a fishing boat and its survivors - the correlation made late in the film. The devastating circumstances and desolate landscape are accompanied aptly by German composer Volker Bertelmann. But let's face it, war crimes against the innocent are tough to watch even in movie form, and this film, regardless of how expertly it's crafted, is relentless in bleakness - though heartfelt and sincere.
This film did not live up to the expectation.
There is very little that makes you care about the characters. There is not enough history for you to learn anything from it. The suffering endured was the same throughout, it felt like not enough was actually happening to keep me interested. By the time I got near the end I just found myself feeling glad it was almost over.
All in all, a disappointment.
I think I might go watch the pianist to remind myself that beautiful and heartfelt films really do exist.
The book was adapted from Ruta Sepetys' bestselling young adult novel Between Shades of Gray, about a 15-year-old girl who is deported to Siberia along with her mother and younger brother (and by the way, the deportations were not limited to the World War II years but began in the 1930s and lasted well into the 1950s). One critic criticized a scene in which women and children are forced to build shelters with their bare hands and survive on bread and water; the movie is "inspired by" but that part is NOT FICTION. The types of events depicted absolutely did happen-those, and so much worse. If you read the novel, it's quite obvious it's written for a younger audience (you should still read it!) but that's because Ruta's goal was to reach students. The movie reflects this, and at times, events or dialogue are grazed over so as not to be too terrifying.
It's an ambitious story, especially to tell in under two hours, but at the very least, it's an admirable attempt. There have been countless movies dramatizing the horrors of Hitler's German, but far fewer about the atrocities committed in the Soviet Union under Stalin. And if nothing else, this movie is timely, as Russia engages in military action in Ukraine (having already annexed Crimea) and Putin has stated repeatedly that he wants the Baltic States back.
Bel Powley does a beautiful job as Lina, the movie's main character, and Swedish actor Martin Wallstrom is excellent as Kretzsky. When it has appeared at film festivals, the movie has met an overwhelmingly positive reception. And if you like films and filmmakers that reject the Hollywood establishment in favor of making the movie they believe needs to be made, you'll REALLY like Ashes in the Snow.
You see, our history is written in blood and tragedy. Baltic people were in these lands since the continent was inhabited. There were multiple Baltic tribes that lived in relative peace with each other. During the period of Hanseatic league our region (the Baltics) was living in prosperity. There were times of conflict, of course. Curonian tribe was well known for their military skills (archeological digs have shown them fighting against vikings even) but our region was always open to trade. 20th century put an end to all that prosperity. First the Nazi's, then the Soviets. It's hard to realize the extent of atrocities of both without having been there, but there is no doubt among Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians that what the Nazi's and Soviets did to our countries was genocide, plain and simple.
Sadly, people in Russia and in our own countries still have ambition to renew their "empire". Ask people in Georgia and Ukraine, they have fresh memories of our devilish neighbor's actions. And the Russian "minority" in each of our countries still acts as if these events didn't take place, bombards TV and internet media with propaganda and manipulated history. You can see them even in reviews of this movie. These people still refuse to learn our language even though our government has long sponsored education of minority schools from the budget of our country.
I could go on and on, but make no mistake - these people still live and breathe by the rule of the sword. Not all of them, especially in the province of Russia itself, but plenty to have your guard on. See the movie, try to imagine how your cozy existence might be crashed by being dragged out of your home in the middle of the night, your property confiscated and foreign nationals allowed to take over it, your family desecrated and deported to work in forced-labor camps somewhere far away. It seems like such a distant nightmare but a wise someone once said: "We are one political election cycle away from totalitarianism".
I wish i could file criminal charges against the production team because the way they managed to destroy such a captivating character should be criminal. Kretzsky, of course is who i am getting at. The potential setup of him was brilliant but it fizzled out into nothing. Then, about 3/4 of the movie in, his character gets a chance of redemption. And what does the movie do? Just absolutely nothing. If you do not get angered by how they threw away all their characters away you did not watch this movie.
The scenery was nice, the sets well made, the real life element capture was close to that of schindler's list. And that's all this movie has for it! All the raw emotion, personal struggle, complex relationships all the things they could have focused on in a movie about siberia (where NOTHING happens) they didnt. Instead it is just one scene of build up after another, then fizzle, then more of the same. No follow through, no culmination, no emotion.
At the end i couldn't care if any of them survived. The complete failure of this crew to attach the viewer to what should have been a sad tale of struggle cannot be forgiven.
And to further insult us, of course the propaganda message before titles roll just had to be there, because let's face it. Unless you literally typed it on the screen, nobody would have grasped what this was even about. It was that bad.
I didn't get bored anywhere. The movie kept my heart still when i was trying to anticipate what will happen next. And for that 5/10 seems just fine 👍🏼
This story is "inspired" by real events which means it is a fictional story representative of what happened back then, the 1940s, when Stalin's USSR was invading Eastern European countries and labeling residents as enemies, gathering them up and sending them to harsh labor camps. This story focuses on Lithuanians.
Bel Powley is the main focus, even though the actress was 25 or 26, she plays 16-yr-old Lina who has a knack for art - drawing, painting, these types of art. She is self-taught but her father hopes to get her admission to a formal art school. Right then, just after she receives her acceptance letter, is when her family and many others are forced into trucks then trains and shipped off to labor camps.
Of course part of the movie is to show how brutal the Soviets were but the main part is to show how people can work to maintain their dignity in such trying times. Interestingly, in the credits are a long list of "extras" who had ties to ancestors who had been imprisoned and mistreated during those times.
Good movie although hard to watch at times.