The World War II presentation "Attack on Leningrad" takes a harrowing real life subject and should have been a powerful and unforgettable movie experience. Wanting to be a historical epic, a sweeping romance, and a heart-rending tragedy--the film, ultimately, falls short on all fronts. It's a real shame, too. Setting a personal story amidst the siege on Leningrad, where German troops isolated the city for nearly 900 days as its inhabitants starved to death, seems like a can't miss proposition to tell a devastating and important tale of survival and perseverance. But this Russian production fails to shed much light as either a personal story or as a tribute to a great city (which is certainly what director Alexander Buravsky must have intended). Populating the cast with international actors including Mira Sorvino, Gabriel Byrne, and Armin Mueller-Stahl further upped my expectations for a truly memorable experience. Sadly, though, the movie flounders at its most basic element--the screenplay.
Sorvino plays an English journalist covering the war in the Soviet Union. On a routine excursion, her unit is attacked and she is presumed dead. When she is subsequently found by a female member of the Leningrad militia, her death has already been reported and the superior officers don't want to contradict their statements. Taking up residence with the soldier, the two women form a grudging friendship and Sorvino (now under an assumed identity) connects with various neighbors where conveniently language differences do not hamper communication efforts. Of course, two plucky Russian children are in the mix (one is even disabled) to maximize emotional impact. Living conditions continue to deteriorate and circumstances become dire as everyone dreams of escape. Everything is drawn in rather broad strokes. For example, Germans are portrayed as cackling evil doers or as patriots completely opposed to their country's barbarism with no middle ground. And in one of the most preposterous subplots ever, corrupt Russian officials actively work to ensure no one finds out Sorvino is alive. Seems like they would have bigger fish to fry in this three year siege that killed 1.5 million citizens.
What is most disappointing is that the true story of Leningrad should have made a potent drama. But filtered through Sorvino's story--nothing rings true. Attempting a romantic angle, we're also supposed to believe that Gabriel Byrne is Sorvino's true passion and soul mate (although the two have no chemistry or connection and the screenplay doesn't do much to support this notion). With the mix of languages in the film, all of the dialogue sounds forced and artificial. No one speaks in a natural cadence or in a believable way and I must presume this had largely to do with English to German to Russian translations. In many ways, the film looks great--but there is little realness in this well-meaning film. I wanted to love "Attack on Leningrad." Truly, I did. The subject matter deserves a thought-provoking treatment that really delves into the epic tragedy. But this isn't that film, no matter how much I wish it was. An interesting misfire. Only about 2 1/2 stars which I'll round up for good intentions. KGHarris, 10/11.
on November 13, 2011
Why five stars? I watched this movie immediately after reading Harrison Salisbury's 900 Days. I found the movie to be quite historically accurate, if The 900 Days is accurate, which I presume it is. I was gripped and engaged emotionally by the movie. I felt that it gave a sense of what it must have been like in Leningrad in autumn 1941 and winter 1942. This movie had the best--coldest, snowiest--winter scenes of any movie I can recall.
In response to some other reviewers: Of course the actors did not look like they were starving. They can only do so much in a movie. Tom Hanks did not look sick enough to have AIDS either in Philadelphia. There are natural limits to what actors can do. Also, a lot was left out of Attack on Leningrad. The siege lasted almost 900 days but the movie only takes place during the first (and worst) part. Again there is only so much that can be portrayed in two hours. You know, unity of time and place, etc.
One thing that no one else mentions is that this is one of the few movies in which all the main characters and heroes are women. I would say of the movies I've seen, this is the finest portrayal of women, their courage and engagement. For this alone I would give it five stars. The very first scene, during the credits, is an amazing portrayal of a woman's courage and domination in combat. She pulls a gun on a hesitant officer and threatens to shoot him if does not lead his men in a charge against the Nazis. They do get out of their trenches and drive back the enemy only to be routed by oncoming tanks. Again, this scene itself was worth five stars. I have never seen anything like that involving women in any other movie ever. There are several other scenes involving the same female character being active, engaged, and heroic. But also feminine at times.
on April 9, 2010
I'm a fan of WWII films and always in search of new ones from whatever origin. This is a Russian movie and it is a real grand war film, even with some minor flaws.
"Leningrad" (2009) is a movie reflecting the incredible suffering of civil population inside the besieged city. At the same time criticizes the Communist Regime and pay homage to heroic Russian people.
The story is about a British reporter accidentally stranded at Leningrad without papers. There she meets a sympathetic militia-woman that risks all to help her survive and try, eventually, to return to Moscow.
Kate shares the daily life of a group of civilians subject to incredible odds: a constantly reducing food ration, freezing cold, no electricity, no phones, no heating, no medical aid, and no nothing!
The film gives a very realistic depiction of how a human reacts under these extreme conditions.
Playacting is really very good, Mira Sorvino as Kate Davis and Olga Sutulova as Nina Svetkova are over-par.
Director Aleksandr Buravsky delivers a poignant film, photography and musical score are very good and reconstruction of Leningrad under siege is outstanding.
It is a great movie for all those interested in war films and general public too!
Reviewed by Max Yofre.
There is a split around this film with reviewers and I can see why, I initially felt this film was plodding a bit too slow, but it does try to deal with what was one of the worst sieges in modern history, in terms of the human casualties. Then it gets things historically wrong, such as using Mescherscmitt ME 109's to carry out the bombing (without bombs in the under carriage) which is just rubbish and was done using CGI so they could have done a real bomber. The characcters do lack real development, but there are some good performances, ostensibly by the children and everyone does look too well fed, but it might be asking a bit much of 'extras' to go without food for 6 months just for arts sake.
They did finally deal with the alleged canibalism and also the activities of the NKVD, but it did feel a little too revisionist with feigns at the emotional heart tug scenario, which just failed to come off - Schindlers List this most certainly is not. That said one of the reviewers here has said that 'Enemy at the gates' is a betteer film, I beg to differ as it has that talentless clothes horse Jude Law ruining an above adequate plot and is so historically inaccurate that it could have been written by the Polit Bureaus propaganda department. If you want a good real Russian WWII film try 'Star'.
on August 12, 2010
Awful, ham-fisted attempt to put onto film a subject that has been long overdue. The near 900 day siege (or snippet thereof) of Russia's second largest city during World War II should be the ideal premise for an engaging drama, but unfortunately this Russian/British co-production fails on many levels. It isn't interesting, dramatic, correct or entertaining. It also isn't well directed (Aleksandr Buravsky) or acted for the most part, despite having personalities like Gabriel Byrne, Mira Sorvino and Armin Mueller-Stahl in the cast.
The basic story is about Kate Davis (Sorvino), a British journalist reporting from Leningrad, who by circumstance is left in the city when the siege starts in earnest. She seeks shelter with a Communist official, Nina (Olga Sutulova) and a Leningrad family. Together they try and avoid starvation and German bombs, in the hope of getting through the ordeal alive.
However, everything seems uneven, disjointed and somehow half-hearted which is a dreadful shame as it was possible to make a good film with the material at hand.
Other failures include appalling clichés, terrible dialogue, silly sub-plots and some ill-fitting post-production dubbing. Notoriously absent are the Finns, who were responsible for the Northern sector on the Leningrad front and also few and far between are scenes of cannibalism, which was rife throughout the city. As well as that, every bombing attack is carried out by smiling German pilots in BF109 fighters, rendered in sub-par CGI and there are moments of supposed drama and tension that actually made me laugh out loud!
There are some good points, though. The opening scene is rather well done, even if the German panzers are woefully incorrect and the idea pinched from 'Enemy at the Gates'. The Russian and German characters speak Russian and German (for the most part anyway, the Russians can speak incredibly good English when needed!) and Olga Sutulova's performance as the Communist militia (Nina) is rather well done, dwarfing everybody else. Unfortunately, it's just impossible to ignore the film's shortcomings and simply enjoy the story as the amateurish inaccuracies and terrible script (right down to the last scene) invade the enjoyment so overwhelmingly.
War is hell...
...but it isn't half as bad as having to sit through this.
on January 28, 2014
Few westerners know much about the siege of Leningrad during World War Two. This dramatic tale, dolled up with some fictional British characters to make it palatable to an English-language audience, does an effective job of illustrating the effects of starvation on a large urban populace, while telling a compelling story of the war. It is a harrowing piece. We were engrossed by the film.
'Some fight. Others fall. All are heroes.' ATTACK ON LENINGRAD as written and directed by Aleksandr Buravsky does indeed address one of the longest and costliest sieges in the history of war. History books relate it as follows: 'This was undoubtedly the most tragic period in the history of the city, a period full of suffering and heroism. For everyone who lives in St. Petersburg the Blokada (the Siege) of Leningrad is an important part of the city's heritage and a painful memory for the population's older generations. Less than two and a half months after the Soviet Union was attacked by Nazi Germany, German troops were already approaching Leningrad. The Red Army was outflanked and on September 8 1941 the Germans had fully encircled Leningrad and the siege began. The siege lasted for a total of 900 days, from September 8 1941 until January 27 1944. The city's almost 3 million civilians (including about 400,000 children) refused to surrender and endured rapidly increasing hardships in the encircled city. Food and fuel stocks were limited to a mere 1-2 month supply, public transport was not operational and by the winter of 1941-42 there was no heating, no water supply, almost no electricity and very little food. In January 1942 in the depths of an unusually cold winter, the city's food rations reached an all time low of only 125 grams (about 1/4 of a pound) of bread per person per day. In just two months, January and February of 1942, 200,000 people died in Leningrad of cold and starvation. Despite these tragic losses and the inhuman conditions the city's war industries still continued to work and the city did not surrender.' Buravsky made a tough decision in this film - whether to sow all the tragedy of a grand scale or reduce it to an examination of the effects of this heinous event as it affected the lives of a few characters. He elected to choose the latter approach which is one reason this film stands tall among the many films about the Siege of Leningrad. Yes, there are reenactments of the battles at the beginning of the film (and the atrocities throughout the film) but Buravsky focuses on three cultures in the form of individuals - the Russians, the Germans, and the British - and is careful to present the extremes of all three groups in telling his story.
The time is 1941 and Kate Davis (Mira Sorvino) is a British journalist who pleads with fellow journalist Philip Parker (Gabriel Byrne) to be assigned to the war front. She succeeds and is assigned to Leningrad where very quickly she is separated from her confreres and is left, wounded, inside the city of Leningrad as the Germans attempt to destroy the city and conquer Russia. Kate speaks little to no Russian, is discovered by Nina Tsvetkova (Olga Sutulova), a member of the Russian resistance, and takes Kate to safety where she becomes friends with children Sima and Yura Krasko (the brother is severely handicapped), manages to write articles about the war around her when she receives a typewriter as a gift, and in general aids the Russians in surviving the lack of food an supplies and support. The film includes vignettes of the Nazi's involvement (meetings with Hitler as portrayed by Eckehard Hoffmann and Armin Mueller-Stahl as von Leeb, et al) and the Russian military and political groups to keep the action plausible. But by far the main point of the film is to honor the citizens of Leningrad as they struggled to survive - with some caring help from the outside.
The film is in Russian, German, and English with subtitles; the choice is solid for keeping the atmosphere but the mix of the three languages seems to stall the propulsion of the action in many spots. The screenplay is more concerned with depicting the sense of the event than it is in providing a dialogue of sophistication. But the actors make the best of the script: Mira Sorvino, Gabriel Byrne, and Olga Sutulova are strong enough to carry the film. This may not be the best of the films about this subject, but it is certainly one of the most successful depictions of the degree of human suffering war inflicts - and for that reason it is worthy of a larger audience. Grady Harp, October 11
on January 21, 2013
Let me start by stating that I am sort of an expert on this subject specifically and the Great Patriotic War (WW2 in the East) more generally and I have always looked forward to the Siege of Leningrad being portrayed in film and brought to a wider audience outside of Russia. Well, this isn't it. To my mind, the Siege of Leningrad is one of the most dramatic and gut wrenching tales of WW2 and one would think that there would be many ways that someone could bring this story to life and bring that drama across to an audience, but the script and the directing, the actors and the acting - argghh! - it all comes off so "made for TV movie". In all fairness, it was a made for TV movie produced for Russian audiences, and it included a couple of notable American actors too. However, it is so stale, so contrived, and photographed in that rather bad made for TV style that it screams all the way from beginning to end, "I am not a serious motion picture". I was gravely disappointed, so much so that I did not make it all the way through the first time watching it. That was how utterly un-engaging the story was. Some months later I forced myself to watch it all the way to the end. It didn't get any better. There were moments where the film almost lived up to expectations - when it focused on the war elements and the siege itself, but where the film tried to portray the human elements of the character leads, which are used as a narrative device to drive the story, it really fell flat. I am not going to pick apart each of the individual performances, but suffice it to say that they were not believable given the context. The female Russian lead was especially bad, and Mira wasn't particularly good either. Hair and Make-Up get particularly bad marks - at no point does anyone in this film look like they are starving to death, on the contrary, in most instances they look like they just got out of the shower and are ready for a day at the office. When you see the children of one family whose story we follow it is just downright laughable, in that they are supposed to be on the edge of death, but they look better than me most mornings! And much that made the siege a horrifying nightmare is absent here or glossed over. I doesn't even look that cold, the weather is generally pretty nice throughout the film - it was one of the nastiest winters of the 20th Century. The criminal gangs and cannibalism are barely touched upon. The film does not do a good job of conveying the building sense of impending doom and the resulting desperation. In fact the most desperate scene that I can recall - that was believable, mind you - was a truck and driver breaking through the ice on Lake Ladoga. They managed to pull the driver to safety, in case you were wondering. I desperately hope that one day this story will be told, but for now you would be better served by sticking to the written accounts. I give it two stars because as far as I know it is the only feature film/TV film series made about the Siege.
on September 22, 2011
"Is it true that the Fuhrer's new plan is not to take Leningrad, but to wipe it from the face of the Earth?" During WWII the Nazis planned to take Leningrad on their march to take over Russia and the world. They are met with resistance and the battle begins. Kate Davis (Sorvino) is a foreign journalist and is on her way to be evacuated with everyone else when she is hit. Thinking she is dead the plane leaves without her. This movie opens with a spectacular war scene that while not that graphic it is still very powerful and memorable. Then the movie shifts to the dramatic side and follows Kate from her life of safety to struggling to stay alive. This movie shows the power of the human spirit and how in times of need you find who and what you need to make it through. A pretty movie true story. The main problem is that it tends to drag in a few parts and is a little too long. I don't mind long movies but if there are parts that are not needed they can be taken out to make the movie's pace a little better. Other then that I recommend this movie. Overall, a good yet slow account of Kate's struggle for life in a country ravaged by war. Much like the movie "Winter In Wartime". Which I though was better then this one. I give it a B-.
Would I watch again? - I don't think so.
*Also try - Enemy At The Gates & Winter In Wartime
on June 4, 2015
The actors were very good. However, I couldn't give "Attack On Leningrad" higher marks, because the story, particularly the ending, was very ambiguous. It is not clear what happened to a main character played by actress Mira Sorvino.