Immediately after German surrender in WW2, Russia had too many
German POWs and not enough facilities to house them, nor personnel to
process them. The captured Germans were thus dispatched to whatever
makeshift accommodations might be remotely suitable for the task. In
this case, 51 Germans were shipped to an empty Russian woman's prison
which was staffed by an all-female skeleton crew. The assignment of
those prisoners to that location was probably intentional, a scheme by
a crafty KGB colonel to use the sexier female staffers to extract
information from the prisoners in whatever manner might be effective.
(Nudge-nudge, wink-wink.) The stakes were higher than first assumed by
the women, because among the scruffy, rag-tag band of Germans were
several high-ranking SS officers who would not be mere prisoners of
war, but rather war criminals to be publicly hanged. The colonel
places his strongest hopes on the camp's doctor, a sexy redhead whose
feminine charms are familiar to him personally, having been exchanged
for a promise to allow her brain-damaged husband to stay in the camp
rather than to be shipped to a sanitarium.
I learned an important historical lesson from this film. Who could
have guessed that being a prisoner of war in Russia was so sweet? By
the end of the film, these prisoners were holding mixers with the
local women, playing musical instruments, wearing new clothing, and
getting laid more than Hugh Hefner. All of those Germans who rushed to
the western front at the last minute so they could surrender to the
British and Americans were such fools. The eastern front was where it
was at! Life in the Russian POW camps was like going to Club Med,
except colder. Damn, I wish I could have been a prisoner of war in
Russia! Their lives were so much better than being a webmaster and
That wasn't the only element of the story that was less than convincing.
When the prisoners are first transported to the camp, four or five women with
rifles have absolutely no trouble maintaining control over 50
battle-hardened Germans. Soon, the doctor is examining each patient privately,
with no armed guard to protect her. It's not just those sorts of
details that seem unrealistic. There are also problems with the film's
internal logic. The incredibly evil guy is eventually outed, but
earlier in the film he says to another guy, in order to secure his
conspiratorial silence, "Remember, Max, I know who you are and what
you did." He says this when they are alone together, so it obviously
means that Max really does have some awful secrets of his own. But
when the Russians finally arrest Max, they end up letting him go back
to the camp, and thence back to Germany. So are we to assume the Russians just gave
people the benefit of the doubt? Hell, not only did the Russians not
exercise such generosity with their enemies, they didn't even treat
their allies and their own soldiers that well!
There are also several moments in the film that are not developed
or supported by earlier events. For example, there is a point where
the bad Nazi is
just about to kill the good Nazi while the KGB officer is driving toward
their location, too far away to prevent it. Suddenly, the sexy camp
doctor (who fell in love with the good Nazi), comes out of nowhere and
jumps the bad guy from behind. Besides the fact that it's hackneyed
scripting and an obvious deus ex machina, there are two major
problems with that: (1) She was farther away than the KGB guy, and she
was on foot while he was driving. How did she get there before him?
(2) She could have had no way to know where the two Nazis were in the
first place. The KGB guy only knew because the
doctor's crazy husband saw where they were heading and told KGB. That was only one example. There were several times when I
felt I must have missed a scene which explained how person "A" could
possibly have been aware of circumstance "B" or gotten to point "C."
I suppose there may well be some scenes missing, given the shabby
quality of the Russian DVD in general. It's not even in the correct
aspect ratio. It is rendered in 1.8:1, but the trailer (see below)
shows that the exact same framing should be stretched to 2.3:1. Even if the trailer were not available, it just should have been
obvious to the men mastering the DVD that the faces and bodies were
not in correct proportions. Sloppy work!
Those negatives are regrettable, because this film could have been
a contender. On the plus side, the director of this film did a marvelous job in
creating an appropriately bleak atmosphere. The camp is rickety and
forbidding. The trains are old and noisy. The prisoners stay within one large hall, with no shelter
against the cold except the four flimsy walls around them. The staff's
quarters are not significantly better. The vehicles seem to be held
together with bailing wire, the fences seem to be rotting, and
everything is covered with layers of snow and ice. Audiences will
probably be shivering sympathetically.
Good idea. Dripping with atmosphere. Great international
cast headed by Vera Farmiga (the doctor), John Malkovich (the KGB
officer), and some European stars. Location shooting in St.
Petersburg. Lots of potential.
Just a mediocre result.
A so-so movie that should have been great.
Film clips: (I forced the scenes back to the correct aspect ratio.)