Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lithuania post-WWII, via Ohman/Sruoginis/ Johnston's history doc, THE INVISIBLE FRONT

When it comes to which Russian satellites we've heard most about down the post-World War II decades (during which Russia, together with its conquered and dominated surrounding neighbors, formed the USSR), Eastern European countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary have been much more in the news than the Baltic States of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. This imbalance has changed a bit now, thanks to the new documentary, THE INVISIBLE FRONT, which tackles the evidently thorny history of Lithuania, a country that gained indepen-dence from Russia after World War I, only to lose it post-WWII, when Russia again took over the little country. Lithuania, however, had quite a movement of partisan fighters determined to wrest the country's freedom back from Russia.

Those partisans (shown above and below) are the primary subject of this new documentary from first-time filmmakers Jonas Ohlman, Vincas Sruoginis and Mark Johnston (whose photos and bios can be found here: Click and scroll down). Because most of us have heard so little about Lithuania -- whose struggle against the Nazis pales beside its struggle against Russia -- The Invisible Front should prove a welcome addition to our knowledge.

In addition to the usual talking heads that we would expect to come from Lithuania itself, this one offers some folk (and some of their progeny) who worked for the other side: Russians, and even some Communist Lithuanians, too. (How the filmmakers got these people to cooperate in the filming might constitute a story unto itself.)

Chief among the partisans was a man named Juozas Lukša (shown above and below, center) whose feats of derry-do and commitment to his native land seem unusually bold and brave. It is Lukša's story more than any other that is highlighted here, and it is certainly a good one. We learn of and meet his widow, Nijole (shown with Juozas two photos below), who fills us in on much that happened to the man and why -- at least so far as she was concerned.

The movie follows a kind of timeline as it gives us Lithuanian history from pre-WWI up to the present. And though I am sure this was not the purpose of the filmmakers, in telling their story, they give us what is basically a tale of the slow death of the fight for freedom, of ideals lost and citizens co-opted into collaborators due to the seemingly unending rule of Russia over the tiny country. It was nearly a half century later, in the early 1990s that the Soviet Union finally broke apart, and Lithuanian became the first of the Baltic States to declare its independence.

Some interesting ideas percolate as the movie progresses. One now-aged female partisan, who was tortured  by the Russians, allows that she always felt that women stood up to torture better than did the men. (One wonders what she might make of the new movie Force Majeure?). And the man most responsible for Lukša's capture and death (on September 4, 1951) tries to explain and half-excuse his actions. (He is primary among those about whom you will wonder how the filmmakers persuaded cooperation).

While this movie opens the door to Lithuania, and the recent and unusual animated film Rocks in My Pockets, showed us some of the history of Latvia, let's hope it won't be long before something new and worthwhile comes out of Estonia to complete a kind of Baltic trilogy.

Meanwhile, The Invisible Front -- the title refers to the code name used by the Soviet Interior Forces for any armed resistance in the occupied territories of the former Soviet Union, as word of this sort of thing was not supposed to leak out to the various populaces to encourage further disruptions of Soviet rule -- opens theatrically this Friday, November 7, in New York City at the Cinema Village. The following Friday, November 14, it will open in Chicago at the Music Box Theatre, and on November 21, look for its opening in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3

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