Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Dzintars Dreibergs' WWI blockbuster, BLIZZARD OF SOULS, is Latvia's submission to the "Oscars" as Best International Film

BLIZZARD OF SOULS (aka The Rifleman) is also, not coincidentally, the little country of Latvia's biggest box-office success in 30 years. And why not? The movie's got, as we used to say, everything. Said to be based (very loosely TrustMovies conjectures) on a true story, there's history, nostalgia, action, war, bloodshed, suspense, humor, emotion, a love story and even a little nudity (male, rear-end only). As directed by Dzintars Dreibergs, with a screenplay by Boriss Frumions (from the novel by Aleksandrs Grins), the film begins in bucolic beauty -- idyllic first love, farm and family life -- and then, all too quickly, descends into the hell of wartime. After centuries of rule by various countries, it took the plight of World War I to push little Latvia into its own statehood.

Mr. Dreibergs, pictured right, shows such skill at crafting a big-budget, multi-character, pull-out-all-the-stops war movie that I can't imagine it will be long before Hollywood comes calling. His leading character -- the suddenly conscripted younger son of a family in which Dad is already an honored war hero and older brother already in the military -- is extremely well-played by newcomer Oto Brantevics (below), who brings everything from naivete and grace to cunning and sex appeal to his character who must suddenly grow up very fast. Or die.

Our hero does what is necessary (and plenty more: the movie is nothing if not incident-heavy) and carries us along with him on his very wild ride, withstanding German attacks via plane, sniper and gas -- not to mention some hand-to-hand/bayonet combat.

The film is full of specific detail -- from a soldier foraging in the snow for berries and plants to another trying to protect his horse during a gas attack. Blizzard of Souls is also highly nationalistic, hence its huge box-office success, and properly (if a tad pushily) anti-German, given its WWI setting.

Much of the action is very well handled, too, in particular a lengthy behind-enemy-lines mission that leaves a lot of men dead. (Best not to grow too attached to many of the characters along the way.) There is also a genuinely emotional and very moving scene in which a mother's letter to her solider son (whom she does not know is now dead) is read aloud to the entire company. There's even a modicum of a love story (two of these, in fact), as our hero falls in and out of love with one young woman (Ieva Florence, above) and later and more successfully with a sweet and smart young nurse (Greta Trusina, below).

Ever so slowly, the Communist revolution intrudes (even on the war itself), forcing soldiers and commanders alike to choose sides and helping bring events to a head. Finally, though, having a single young soldier (even as good as Brantevics' performance is) stand in for an entire coming-into-being country proves a little too much for the film to bear. Blizzard of Souls offers an awful lot of coincidence and luck before ending on a note of near feel-good nostalgia bathed in a golden glow.

From Film Movement, in Latvian with English subtitles and running a solid 123 minutes, the movie opens in virtual cinemas this Friday, January 8. Click here then scroll down for more information on the film itself and/or how to screen it.  

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