Academic journal article Film & History

Battalion [Batal'on]

Academic journal article Film & History

Battalion [Batal'on]

Article excerpt

Battalion [Batal'on] (2015)

Directed by Dmitrii Meskhiev

Distributed by Walt Disney Sony Pictures Releasing (Russia); DSPR (worldwide)

http://batalion-film.ru/english/conception_eng/

120 minutes

Battalion recounts the story of a women's "death battalion" sent to fight at the front during one of the most difficult and decisive moments of Russian history. Following the February Revolution of 1917 and subsequent abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, Russia continued her war efforts under the command of the Provisional Government. As a consequence of these domestic political struggles, military discipline was breaking down and desertion was rife. Without effective military command, all hopes of winning the war appeared to be lost. Based on true events, the film depicts how, in an effort to raise the troops' morale, the decision is made to form a women's battalion under the command of officer Maria Bochkareva (the unit's actual commander, played here by acclaimed theater and film actress Maria Aronova). The official name of the film is written according to pre-revolutionary spelling rules to highlight the film's temporal setting before the October Revolution (shortly after which orthographic reforms were implemented). In Russia, the memory of the First World War has long been overshadowed by the highly institutionalized remembrance of the Second World War (and, in the Soviet Union, of the 1917 Revolutions as well). The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War was commemorated in 2014, albeit very modestly in comparison to Western European countries. Most likely, it provided the occasion for the makers of Second World War blockbusters The Brest Fortress (2010) and Stalingrad (2013) to try their hands at the topic.

The film premiered February 20, 2015, to coincide with Defender of the Fatherland Day, a public holiday that is celebrated February 23. It deviates from the majority of Russian war films by granting the leading roles to women and largely omitting romantic developments in favor of camaraderie and (heroic) battlefield action. The fact that Defender of the Fatherland Day is generally seen as "Men's Day" carries a certain irony. Those expecting a feminist portrayal of war will be disappointed though: in the end, the all-female battalion finds itself cornered and has to be rescued by male soldiers (whose morale, it has to be granted, the women's battalion succeeded in raising). Although unusual, Battalion is not alone among recent Russian films in highlighting the role of women as fighting soldiers and potential heroes. Battle for Sevastopol, which premiered April 2, 2015, recounts the life of legendary female sniper Liudmila Pavlichenko. This Second World War film, however, plays out along more conventional lines by placing a romance at the center of the plot. …

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