Hot on the heels of the release of Christopher Nolan's war flick, "Dunkirk" comes this nifty gem that was at one time Estonia's entry for consideration for Best Foreign Language Film. It didn't make it that far but this is a got bookend with "Dunkirk".


Directed by Estonian director Elmo Nyganen, the film details the epic World War II Battle of Tannenberg Line in July of 1944 between the Soviet troops who were trying to recapture Estonia from the Nazi's and the German Army - made up of mostly conscripted Estonians.


Much like the American Civil War, it was very much a brother-against-brother battle that pit German occupied Estonians against Soviet captured Estonians forced into the Soviet army. The Soviet Army was huge, with over 130 thousand men, while the Nazi German army only had around 22 thousand.

Nuganen immediately takes us inside the trenches as the Russians are seemingly overwhelming the German army with artillery fire, tanks and that huge army. We learn right away that Estonians are fighting on both sides while being lied to about their presence.


Estonia's strategic location on the Baltic and between the Soviet Union and Germany made them the geographical ping-pong ball of the Eastern Front. To be true, it is difficult at first to decipher who is who, but the characters thin out as the body count grows and the film focuses on Juri Jogi (Kristian Ukskula) who is fighting for the German army.


As you get to know him, you find out that he comes from a privileged background that makes him somewhat attractive to the Nazi's. But the Nazi's have had their way with the Estonians by pillaging their farms and homes to raping the Estonian women. There are amazing scenes of aerial assaults on fleeing citizens - women and children.


But it comes down to Jogi's involuntary deportation of one woman's (Maiken Schmidt) family, the battlefield killing of that same woman's brother and his ultimate encounter with her when he brings her the bad news, but omits responsibility. Yes, it gets personalized but only in the ironic way; the irony that followed the Estonian involvement in WWII.


Needless to say the cinematography was first rate and the acting was realistic. The battlefield scenes can stand up against Hollywood versions...easily. The only thing that is lacking is Western hemisphere interest.


"1944" is a worthwhile film for any military buff and surely any WWII fan as it depicts a battle that few Westerners know about. Elmo Nüganen does a great job depicting the huge loss of life. [VOD, DVD]   -- GEOFF BURTON