CAPSULE: In 1944 Estonia was torn between Estonians who were forced to battle the Germans and Estonians who were forced to battle the Soviets. Elmo Nuganen's film 1944 tells a story of a country on the Eastern Front being torn apart. Nuganen gives us some striking recreations of battles and of the effect on the Estonians caught vise-like between two ruthless war machines. Perhaps this film is just one cut below the current DUNKIRK. This is a chapter of history that deserves to be better known. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
In 1939 Germany and the Soviet Union signed their infamous Non- Aggression Pact. Stalin was guaranteed that by the pact that the USSR would be safe from attack by a Germany that did not feel bound by it agreements. Stalin, then feeling safe from attack by Germany invaded countries he wanted to swallow into the Soviet Union, Estonia among them. The following year Stalin went ahead and incorporated Estonia into the Soviet Union. To make his point he took 55,000 Estonian men and mobilized them into the Soviet Army. In 1941 the German military, now declaring itself at war with the Soviets, invaded Estonia and drafted 72,000 Estonians into its own German Waffen-SS. Like an imposed civil war, that meant that Estonians were at war with other Estonians. Most Americans have been taught little of this military history. Much of the history in this film may be unfamiliar for most American viewers.
The film 1944 takes place July to November 1944 from the Battle of Tannenberg Line to the Battle of Tehumardi and the interval between. Estonia is at war with itself while Red troops fight against German troops. The Germans hypocritically tell their Estonian conscripts, virtually a slave army, that it is an honor to fight for Hitler and supposedly that it has been discovered that Estonians are really Aryan just like the Germans and they are all fighting for a happy and bright future in the Greater German Reich. Somehow the soldiers forced to fight do not seem to be convinced.
1944 gives the viewer a vivid experience of tank and machine gun warfare, but a somewhat softened view of trench warfare. We see the war for Estonia from the point of view of soldiers fighting for the Germans and soldiers fighting for the Soviets, each destroying the country of his birth for the benefit of a foreign dictator he hates.
This film is probably being released currently in the United States to appeal to the people who liked Christopher Nolan's currently released film DUNKIRK. The battle scenes are strong material, but they do not have the personal feel that the close-ups of soldiers in battle have in DUNKIRK. The attention to detail in uniforms and weaponry is reportedly very good. However, the uninitiated in WWII history may have trouble telling who is with what faction and what is happening to whom.
The film is offered for sale on DVD with optional English dubbing, but the dubbing sounds like it was recorded on a sound stage. The voices neither fit the actors' looks, nor their persona. Occasionally the words are off by half a second.
I rate 1944 a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
1944 is available in on DVD with a choice of Estonian with English subtitles, or with English dubbing. Given a choice take the subtitles which have a much more realistic feel than the dubbing. The DVD currently is a Wal-Mart exclusive. The film is also available on digital.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3213684/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1944
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2017 Mark R. Leeper