An unusual and at times powerful Soviet WWII movie about a male sergeant leading a group of inexperienced women soldiers into a skirmish with marauding Nazis.
Dir. Stanislav Rostotsky
1972 | Soviet Union | Drama/War | 158 mins | 2.35:1 | Russian & German
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some nudity
Cast: Andrey Martynov, Irina Dolganova, Elena Drapeko
Plot: During WWII in a small village outpost, a commander has his troop replaced by an all female unit. As they finally begin to appreciate one another, German paratroopers are spotted nearby and the realities of war emerge.
Awards: Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Oscars); Official Selection (Venice)
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
This got into my radar via the MUBI platform, and I’m glad I saw it. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film which eventually went to Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), The Dawns Here Are Quiet (which had a recent feature film remake in 2015) will interest viewers who are into Soviet war films. Its length can be daunting, running at more than 150 minutes, but it should largely reward viewers for embarking on the journey.
Based on Boris Vasilev’s 1969 short novel of the same name, and directed by Stanislav Rostotsky in what could be his most well-known film (though Rostotsky was not exactly a household name in Russian cinema—it’s the first time I’ve heard of him, really), The Dawns Here Are Quiet is split into two parts with an intermission, where the first half details a male sergeant who is tasked to command a platoon of anti-aircraft gunners… who are inexperienced women.
The film led the Soviet box-office in 1973.
The second half sees him bring along six of these women soldiers into a skirmish with marauding Nazis, hoping to fend them off their territory and protect the Motherland. With excellent casting and characterisation, Rostotsky makes us care for each of them as they put their lives on the line.
It is an unusual war film inasmuch as it relies a fair bit on flashbacks (differentiated by the use of colour) of a peaceful past as well as hallucinations of horror, which sort of works even if the technique feels dated as seen today.
What makes the film consistently engaging, however, is the male-female comradeship dynamic in the context of war, which is infrequently portrayed on screen. As such, one can see The Dawns Are Quiet as a war film about the intersection between gender and heroism through its honour of the brave women who fought in WWII.