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.