Director: Elmo Nüganen
Genre(s): Action, Drama, War
Runtime: 100 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Estonia – like the other two Baltic states (Latvia and Lithuania) – was caught in a very difficult position during World War II. Invaded and brutally subjugated by the Soviet Union in 1940, tens of thousands of Estonians joined the Nazi military when Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet empire in 1941. The Estonian film 1944 is a rare cinematic glance into the Second World War from that national point-of-view, being largely about Estonians fighting on the Eastern Front of that conflict during the titular year.
The movie 1944 benefits from some excellent combat scenes that feel fairly realistic. The explosions, antique firearms, and sound effects deserve special mention. This 2015 flick does feature some electric guitar in the musical score (during battle sequences), which seems a little…”off.” Listen, I love rock music as much as the next guy, but that sort of stuff feels out-of-place in a World War II picture. The cut of the feature available on Amazon also contains English dubbing that could be considered somewhat subpar.
Banned in Russia, 1944 tries pretty desperately to show that, even though they wear the uniform of the Nazi war machine, the Estonians serving the Third Reich were not all Nazis. I’m not entirely convinced by this, but it does put a human face on the combatants. Characters in the film are, unfortunately, a bit difficult to keep track of, and there’s a clumsy-feeling perspective shift halfway through the runtime (that I won’t spoil the details of) that introduces a whole new set of people to keep abreast of.
This movie isn’t a runaway success (although it was a box office smash in Estonia), but the novelty of seeing World War II through Estonian eyes is enough to make me recommend it. The people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were truly caught between a rock and a hard place during the Second World War, and 1944 shows some of that madness. Some clunky storytelling aside, this motion picture shows off one of the most interesting parts of the 1939-1945 war: the fates of those trapped in between the fascist and communist empires on the Eastern Front.
My rating is 7 outta 10.