This movie is also called “The Brest Fortress”. -SF
The film is a flawed depiction of the Brest Fortress siege, but rightly celebrates the defenders’ enormous courage.
The 2010 Russian-Belarusian film Fortress of War tells the tale of the Soviet men and women defending an exposed, antiquated fortress. As the first to be hit by the titanic German invasion of Russia in June 1941, they held out for an entire month while the Nazis devoured their country.
Featuring beautiful cinematography shot on the site of the actual Brest Fortress, Fortress of War doesn’t shy from portraying the grim toll that act of defiance exacted on the soldiers and civilians who simply refused to give up.
But despite the film’s qualities, the screenwriters commit a major sin of omission, remaining silent on a historical detail that would change our perspective on the film.
Brest Fortress was first built in the 1830s in what is today the country of Belarus, and rests on an island separate from the city of Brest itself. The fort’s old-fashioned battlements seem charming rather than formidable.
The film’s firm sense of time and place is one of its strengths. We are quickly acquainted with various buildings and inhabitants inside the fortress in its pristine pre-siege condition. Every image oozes period detail from the wire-frame glasses to portraits of Joseph Stalin and the hobnails in officers’ boots.
The opening scenes exude nostalgia — the film’s narrator is a young boy, Alexander Akimov, who plays the tuba for “the musical platoon of the 333rd Regiment,” while soldiers and young women dance in the fortress’s sunny courtyard.
There are 300 civilians among the 8,000 soldiers garrisoned in the fort. Young lovers tryst in secret while a portly commissar berates his men on how to better perform a Cossack dance.
This rosy portrait of life in the Stalinist-era Soviet Union may seem strange to Western audiences, and indeed could be called into question given that the Soviet army at the time had recently undergone purges resulting in the execution of 15,000 to 30,000 of its officers. But it’s also a reminder that there were still many in the USSR who led dignified lives before the German invasion.
Read the Remainder at War is Boring