TV: The Dawns Here Are Quiet

Recent Russian miniseries The Dawns Here Are Quiet (2015) possesses a peculiar blend of contemporary filmmaking gloss and old-fashioned sensibilities, which bears out its origin as a remake of a patriotic, Soviet-era war epic. During World War II, a discarded Russian officer named Vaskov (Pyotr Fyodorov) commands a small anti-aircraft detail that guards a railway junction far from the front lines. His biggest problem is keeping control of his soldiers, so when his men finally get reassigned for making too much trouble, he requests replacements that are teetolaing non-womanizers. Much to his surprise, he’s sent just that: an all-female unit. Vaskov’s awkward interactions with his new outfit develop into a true leadership challenge when German paratroopers are observed nearby. Vaskov deduces they must be the vanguard of a German attack, their mission to sabotage Russian supply lines; he therefore sends for reinforcements. But all he receives is approval to take a squad of five soldiers with him to deal with the threat. It will put his tactical abilities to the test, and also give him a new appreciation for the bravery of the women under his command.

The Dawns Here Are Quiet is a lavish, attractive production that refreshingly gives voice to the stories of women in wartime. Since Russia is the only nation that employed female combat soldiers during World War II, this tale is every bit as action-packed as any other war epic. On the other hand, while the female soldiers are clearly revered by the story, they’re also characterized a bit stereotypically. There’s an element of protective male-gaziness to this celebration of their heroism. While the women are given flashback histories, their backstories aren’t particularly interesting, and the series very much belongs to Vaskov, whose initial reluctance to lead these women evolves first into grudging acceptance and then to downright love and respect. The story is at its most effective as a suspenseful slow-build, as Vaskov ponders out thorny battlefield tactics that continually paint his small, inexperienced unit into tighter and tighter corners. (Unfortunately, this plot’s unnerving forward momentum is frequently disrupted by the less-interesting flashbacks.) The women are effectively played by Anastasiya Mikulchina, Evgeniya Malakhova, Kristina Asmus, Agniya Kuznetsova, and Sofya Lebedeva, and the camaraderie the group develops with their new commander is inspiring. But considering the female focus, it feels very much a man’s story. Still, it is a compelling watch on many levels, and made me curious to see the original film upon which it is based.

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