Friday, January 8, 2021

Blizzard of Souls (The Rifleman) Review: A Poignant, Visceral, and Authentic War Drama

Oto Brantevics	...	Arturs Vanags Raimonds Celms	Raimonds Celms	...	Edgars Vanags Martins Vilsons	Martins Vilsons	...	Vanags Jekabs Reinis	Jekabs Reinis	...	Mikelsons Gatis Gaga	Gatis Gaga	...	Konrads Renars Zeltins	Renars Zeltins	...	Spilva Vilis Daudzins	Vilis Daudzins	...	Sala Greta Trusina	Greta Trusina	...	Marta Ieva Florence	Ieva Florence	...	Mirdza Rezija Kalnina	Rezija Kalnina	...	Mother Rest of cast listed alphabetically: Lauma Balode	Lauma Balode	...	Mother of Gatis Oskars Holsteins	Oskars Holsteins	...	Extra Pjotrs Karpuhins	Pjotrs Karpuhins	...	Krievijas armijas generals

Release date: January 8, 2021 (American Streaming Release)
Running time: 123 minutes
Starring: Oto Brantevics, Raimond Celms, Martins Vilsons, Jekabs Reinis, Gatis Gaga, Renars Zeltins, Vilis Daudzins, Greta Trusina, Ieva Florence, Rēzija Kalniņa
Directed By: Dzintars Dreibergs

Blizzard of Souls (also known as the Rifleman) is Latvia's official entry to the Oscars.  The film pays stark witness to the horrors and brutality of the First World War, as seen through the eyes of Arturs (Oto Brantevics), an innocent sixteen-year-old farm-boy turned soldier. Too young to fight, he enlists anyways to serve on the Eastern Front with dreams of becoming a hero. Conscripted into one of Latvia’s first national battalions, Arturs soon discovers the grim reality of trench warfare. Fighting alongside his father and brother, he experiences the loss of his home and loved ones while growing up surrounded by constant danger and death on the battlefield.  Adapted from the book by Aleksandrs Grins, which was banned in the USSR, the story was based on Grins’ own war experiences in a Latvian battalion, and the film is the biggest box office success in Latvia of the past 30 years.

Directed by  Dzintars Dreibergs	Writing Credits (in alphabetical order)   Boris Frumin	...	(as Boriss Frumins) Aleksandrs Grins	...	(novel)   Produced by  Dzintars Dreibergs	...	producer Inga Pranevska	...	executive producer
Blizzard of Souls has an amazing cinematic style that quickly and visually showcases the horrors of war.  It starts with a bright colorful opening, showing Arturs and his brother's carefree life on their family farm.  However, the prospect and horrors of war quickly change this and Arturs enlists to fight in the Latvian battalion.  And this is where the cinematic style changes: bright colors and cheerful imagery are replaced with a more muted palette and a darker, more dreary aesthetic.  And this change is so stark that it catches your attention, especially seeing the regiment of young boys who are still exhibiting childlike attitudes now being trained to kill.  

And Arturs captures this duality perfectly.  Brantevics looks every bit the young, inexperienced youth at the start whose reluctance to kill is completely understandable.  But throughout this two hour journey, you see the young man transform on the big screen into a hardened, proud, and sad soldier who has experienced a lot by the time he is 21.  But although Brantevics is the standout, the rest of the cast do a great job recreating this time and these battles.  The other soldiers share Bantevics ability to show both hardened fighting but also levity in the downtime.  And some of the officers have this great technique of having a more militant persona when they are following orders, but then dropping that slightly when they are interacting with their men.  It is subtle but much appreciated.  And the film doesn't just show the effect of war on the young soldiers; it also shows the effect on the civilian men and women who are affected by it.  A few characters keep coming back into the story throughout and the changes in their demeaner and well being are striking.

The film has a commitment to realism that should be applauded. Although I am sure that there were liberties and embellishments taken, the movie appears to show an accurate depiction of war and the military at the time.  I especially liked the intake process where they are checking the potential soldiers physically before sending them in.  And the training felt accurate (and from the images shown in the credits, it was based on actual training that occurred).  Further, despite the muted color palette, the battles in Blizzard of Souls are so varied and visceral.  The war took place on many fronts, and Arturs fights in different locales under some terrible conditions.  But one thing is common in this film, during the build up to each battle there is a palatable sense of tension as you wonder when the fighting will occur and whether the preparations will be complete.  And once the fighting begins, the film showcases sweeping, large engagements that feel every bit as weighty as you expected.  The visuals, the sound, the ease at which characters are consumed in the war, they make Blizzard of Souls feel like a poignant, sad, and ultimately visceral depiction of this combat and its effect on people.  And you get to see it from the Latvian perspective, which is one that many of us haven't experienced; a country and a people that were torn left and right for this conflict.

Blizzard of Souls is a poignant, visceral, sad, and altogether inspiring war drama with a commitment to authenticity, fantastic acting, and a compelling story.  

Watch it.

Latvia War Drama The Rifleman World War I Great War Communists Tsar Russia Germany Latvian

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Blizzard of Souls is playing in virtual cinemas across the country.  For more information and for showtimes click here.

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