Five great Russian films about World War 2 (online links to four)

As might be expected of a country of exceptional cultural and cinematic skills but which endured by far the greatest burden of the war against Hitler, the Russians have produced some of the greatest film representations of World War 2.

Some of these films can be watched online and where appropriate we provide links

(1) The cranes are flying (1957)

The film that made Tatiana Samoilova a star, it tells the tale of a young woman widowed by the war. It caused an international sensational when released in the middle of the Cold War as it showed Russians as human being


(2) Ballad of a soldier (1959)

A Red Army soldier travels across Russia to see his mother whilst his leave.  At the end of an extraordinary journey he is able to see her for just a few minutes before returning to the front where he will die.

(3) Destiny of a Man (1959)

Based on a novel of Sholokhov’s, the tale of a Red Army soldier whose family is killed during the war and who survives incredible privations as a prisoner of war in Germany.  The film has one of the earliest and best film representations of a Nazi extermination camp (probably Auschwitz) showing prisoners on the ramp during selection with the crematorium in the distance

(4) Seventeen Moments of Spring (1973)

A twelve part television series telling the tale of Maxim Isayev aka “Max Otto von Stirlitz”, a fictional Soviet spy (though one based on actual people) who has penetrated the very highest levels of the Nazi leadership and of the SS.  Possibly the single most loved Soviet TV drama, made with technical assistance provided by the KGB, with memorable representations of Hitler, Himmler, Goring, Bormann, Schellenberg, Stalin and a host of others, but especially of Isayev/”Stirlitz” (by the famous actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov) and of his principle adversary Gestapo chief Heinrich Muller.  Amidst a host of memorable scenes possibly the most famous is one where Soviet intelligence rewards Isayev/”Stirlitz” by allowing him to see his wife in a cafe but they are not allowed to speak to each other.


(5) Come and See (1985)

A harrowing account of life in Nazi occupied Belarus in the autumn of 1943, shown from the perspective of a teenage boy who has joined the partisans.  Considered by some to be the “ultimate World War 2 film”.  The culminating scenes at the end are profoundly shocking.

This film is still in copyright (though pirate versions can be readily found online).  DVD versions and online rental versions are available here.

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