The Red Army’s defense of the Brest Fortress against the Nazis in June 1941 is one of the most resonant episodes of the Great Patriotic War. Based on the true story of how Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the film looks at three main resistance zones headed by the regiment commander, Gavrilov.

4.5
A remarkable true story of courage under fire.

RUSSIAN RESURRECTION FILM FESTIVAL: This epic account of the heroic defence of a Russian fortress against Nazi invaders in 1941 ranks as one of the most gripping and powerful war movies of all time.

What makes Brest Fortress even more harrowing is that the often shocking, brutal events are viewed primarily through the eyes of a child.

Working with a relatively modest budget of $7 million, director Alexander Kott and his crew delivered a spectacular, deeply moving picture whose production values would rival any Hollywood production.

The tension rarely falters and the battle scenes filmed in the area of Belarus where a memorial to the Brest Fortress stands are terrifyingly realistic.

A joint Russian-Belarusian collaboration, it was plagued initially by financing and script problems and debates over historical accuracy, none of which is apparent on screen. The creative inspiration came from actor/producer Igor Ugolnikov, now head of the Television and Radio Organisation, who receives a story credit.

The film is narrated by Sashka Akimov as an adult, a fictitious character based on 15-year-old Petya Klypa, who survived the Brest Fortress invasion. The young Sashka is played brilliantly by Аlyosha Kopashov, a newcomer who shows none of the precocity or affected mannerisms that can dog child actors.

The Germans attacked the garrison, where 8,000 soldiers, women and children were housed, in the early hours of June 22 after sending in saboteurs disguised in Russian uniforms who knocked out the water supply and electricity.

The action switches between three zones of resistance, each led by men who were later hailed as Russian heroes: the regiment commander Pyotr Mikhailovich Gavrilov (Аlexander Korshunov), the commissar Efim Moiseevich Fomin (Pavel Derevyanko) and the head of the 9th frontier outpost, Andrey Mitrofanovich Kizhevatov (Аndrey Merzlikin).

A pupil in a Red Army band, tuba player Sashka, is fishing with Kizhevatov’s daughter Anya (Veronika Nikonova), a girl he clearly adores, when the bombing starts. The friends are separated and Sashka spends days frantically searching for her while managing to elude the Nazis.

Among the many devastating scenes, one man with his arm blown off tearfully urges Sashka to 'scramble into the cellar, run son"; Sashka’s badly wounded uncle farewells his wife, shoots her and then turns the gun on himself rather than be captured; and an unarmed Gavrilov bravely approaches German soldiers who are holding hospital staff and patients as hostages, orders his compatriots to drop to the ground and his men to open fire.

The tension becomes almost unbearable as those trapped in the fortress run out of food, water, medicine and hope as the reinforcements they are anxiously waiting for never arrive.

The officers’ decision to counter-attack is heroic but doomed to fail against overwhelming odds.

The performances are uniformly superb and Vladimir Bashta’s cinematography is exemplary, particularly the close-ups which put the viewer in the middle of the mayhem.

Similarly, the special effects are outstanding, particularly in the re-enactment of aerial assaults, blowing numerous buildings to smithereens and in depicting numerous deaths.

An opening slide dedicates the film to the heroes of the Brest Fortress and in memory of 'all those who have defended the motherland". That could have signalled an intention to venerate centuries-old Soviet imperialism but Kott avoids any temptation to cloying sentimentality or propaganda.