Battalion (2015) is a historical Russian war film set in part at home before the latter part takes place at the front line. It was written by Ilya Avramenko, Evgeniy Ayzikovich, and Dmitriy Meskhlev and was also directed by Meskhlev. The film won awards for it’s music score, film editing, and Mariya Kozhevnikova’s performance as a supporting actress (IMBD). The movie follows the first Russian Women’s Battalion of Death which was formed as a part of a propaganda ploy to boost the morale of the men who abandoned their posts at the front line.
The plot of Battalion was very ambitious and rich. To attempt to record and retell a part of history that is involved in conversations on gender, politics, class, and how other social norms are disrupted during the course of war is quite the feat. To add to that, the heavy amount of characters and backstories they tried to cover often had me lost and scrambling to find out who was who and what was important or motivating to each of them. The film did a good job of keeping track at the start of the film when many of the women are introduced at enlistment, however as the plot developed it was a struggle to feel close to these characters and some of their deaths. The plot also attempted to move on plot points that felt odd and out of place. One such instance was the few minutes of domestic abuse and the graphic portrayal of (I wont say who for the sake of spoilers) that felt so unnecessary when such a struggle could have been mentioned more simply through dialogue. Even with a little over two hours of screen time, the ending felt abrupt and the story choppy as there were many moving pieces that seemed to just drop midair.
The actors of the film did a good job at portraying their characters in a manner that felt plausible and believable even in extreme plot points. Most notably the commander of the Women’s Battalion; of whom is hardened by years of battle and now leading a battalion of her own. At the face of death and the deaths of the women she is leading, her despair and guilt weighs heavy and translates clearly through the screen. On the other hand, as mentioned previously, the amount of men and women were so many that it felt as if they fought for dialogue and screen time to relate each’s own seemingly important subplots. I felt as if some actors’ performances felt forced and theatrical; such as the moments from the general office.
The cinematography of the film was beautifully shot to include broad moments of architecture and solid pieces of the setting both at home and at war to ground the viewer. However, technical elements such as camera angles, blurring, and close up moments at times felt inappropriate. In one moment of the film, on the front line, the camera bounced up and down in the face of one of the woman soldiers in a manner that felt awkward and jarring. In other instances, a blurred camera view can effectively and intimately draw the viewer to a vague understanding of how your vision could be obstructed during a gas attack or faulty after an injury to the head. The musical score, on the other hand, effectively boosted the film and its moments of anticipation and relief; whether the relief was to be false or true.
Overall, the film Battalion was a movie that tried to do many different things, but did not have enough time to properly and effectively cover such elements. Such conventions and themes were; political motivations, the psychological effects of war, womanhood vs. manhood, and how normalizing judgment works within that space. As a result, the message felt very rushed and difficult to keep up with. I would have loved to explore more why the soldiers abandoned the front line and ultimately why they decided to take the course of action that they did at the end of the film. I would have also loved to see how loss of self functioned within sexuality more developed in the movie as it was only mentioned in passing a few times. However, I would recommend Battalion as it is a movie that does capture a unique piece of Russia’s history that I would have otherwise been ignorant to if I did not have the honor to watch the film.
- In Chapter Four, Nellie receives a letter from her sister containing her own experiences supporting the war. How do her and her sister’s experience differ? Do you think Trix is witholding the reality of her situation as Smith is or do you think she is sharing her own (seemingly better) reality with her sister?
Add on, what do you make of what Trix heard about Smith’s experience supporting the war through rumors amongst her fellow drivers? And to what effect do these rumors take in Chapter Six on the convoy and eventually on the Bug’s mental and physical health?
- Later in Chapter Four, Smith angrily demands that her mother and Mrs. Evans-Mawnington follow her and see what occurs straight at the battle field. How does this section relate to our discussion of how the war is perceived at the illusionment of home vs. the brutality of war? And do you think Smith commands to “look” and “see” sharing the ugliness of war and the effects of it on the children sent to the front with these women is cruel or necessary to their understanding? Would their understanding even attribute to any change? Is this passage influential to us today? (pp. 90-96)
- In Chapter Five, the girls throw a going away party for the B.F. complete with speeches. How do you think of the well wishes that The Bug and Tosh send her? Keeping in mind what we talked about in class today in regard to what the B.F. and Etta Potato may be representing to us, what do you make of the tone that these well wishes are said in? (pp. 106-108)
Bonus Round! Featuring random questions I am curious to hear thoughts on.
- On pg 79, Aunt Helen writes a letter to Smith notifying her that she has made a will in her favor. Is this will for Nellie? If so, with what audacity??
- Am I crazy to read this book as a modernist novel? There is a real “stream of consciousness” narrative at play here and I am wondering if I am just overthinking it.
I look forward to hearing what you guys thought on Tuesday. Good night!