A zori zdes tikhie (The Dawns Here Are Quiet) (1972)

 

 

 

Director:     Stanislav Rostotsky. 

Starring:     Yelena Drapeko (Lisa Britschkina),  Yekaterina Markova (Galja Chetvertak),  Olga Ostroumova (Zhenja Komelkowa),  Irina Shevchuk (Rita Osjanina),  Irina Dolganova (Sonia Gurvich),  Andrei Martynov (Vaskov),  Lyudmila Zajtseva (Sergeant Kirjanowa),  Alla Meshcheryakova (Maria Nikiforovna).

young Russian women up against a larger group of German soldiers in Karelia (North-West of Russia, near Finland) in 1941

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.  (Character names used are those in the subtitles which sometimes differ in spelling from the ones in the credits.)

 

Part I.  In the Second Echelon. 

A number of young people are camping by a lake and having a lot of fun.  One young lady carefully looks around the place. 

Flashback.  On a state farm Sergeant Fedot Yaskov complains to Comrade Major that the soldiers they have been giving him have been terrible boozers who can't keep their hands off the women.  He also complains about how Command Headquarters is running things. 

The woman who keeps care of the Sergeant's room and cooks and cleans for him, named Mira, tells the Sergeant that the anti-aircraft crew is here.   The Sarge goes to check them out and is surprised to see that the crew is composed of all women.  They are the first and second squads of the third section of the Fifth Anti-aircraft Battalion.  Section Leader Kiryanova is in charge.  One of the first of the female soldiers he meets besides the leader is a young blonde woman named Lisaveta Brichkina.   He also meets Rita.  Rita sits quietly daydreaming of being with a young man living in a house, being in love. In the morning she leaves the barracks around 4 a.m. and goes on an errand.  Just before everyone else has to get up, she returns to the barracks. 

Sarge sees undergarments hanging on a clothesline and he complains to the women.  Section Leader Kiryanova is right there to sight regulations permitting clothes lines.  Sarge backs down.  Rita daydreams again this time about having a husband and a baby son.   Air raid!  Everyone has to take up their battle positions.  German planes fly overhead.  Lida receives a flesh wound. Rita shoots two planes down.  Sarge wants those pilots bailing out as POWs, but Rita shoots both pilots dead before they can reach the ground.  The Sarge complains to the women that he wanted those Germans alive. 

Comrade Major visits and wants to know who shot the planes down.  It was Junior Sergeant Rita Ossyanina and her group.  The Major congratulates the women.  The Major has brought two new female soldiers with him.  They are transfers:  Gunner Zheyna Komelkova and Gunner Sonya Gourvitch.  The Major tells Rita that Zheyna was transferred because she was having an affair with a Colonel who is married.  Rita welcomes the two women.  Later Zhenya talks to Rita alone and learns that Rita's husband was killed the third day of the war.  When Rita sneaks away early in the morning she goes to visit her son and mother who are not far away.  Zhenya says that she lost her brother, sister and mother when the Germans shot them down as part of a massacre.  Rita, speaking of the Colonel, asks Zhenya how could she have an affair with him?  Zhenya replies: "Well, I did it."   She says her father was a high-ranking military officer and it was her father who introduced her to at the time Major Luzhin.  They would go riding together. 

Soap is issued so the women can have baths.  The women tease Sarge, but Lisaveta defends the Sarge.  The other women start teasing Lisaveta saying that she has a huge crush on Sarge.  Rita then comes to the rescue of Lisaveta.

Lisaveta daydreams.  Her father was a forest ranger.  She meets a handsome man that stayed with the family for awhile.  Lisaveta comes to really like the man.  When he has to leave the next day, she goes to his room to be with him, but he tells her not to do something silly.  He sent hear a postcard last year.  Zheyna dreams again of her Colonel.  She sees the good times, but then she is suddenly at the front and in danger of being killed.  She finally finds her Colonel and he asks her what is she doing here? 

The Sergeant goes to retrieve the body of one of the downed pilots.  He finds a map of the area on the pilot.  The village is on Lake Legonte.   Near it are the Murmansk railroad and the White Sea Canal. 

The soldier Galka Chetvertak does not think she is as pretty as the other women.  So Zheyna fixes her hair up nicely and they have a dance.  One of the other women soldiers dances with Galka.  Galka has a Cinderella dream.  She is dressed in white, has a white carriage pulled by white horses and her Prince is also dressed in white.  And, of course, she loses one of her shoes that the Prince finds.  But when she returns home, we see she returns to an orphanage. 

Zheyna plays her guitar and sings for her comrades.  Sonia has a daydream that she is in a university library seated to a handsome young man named Misha.  She falls asleep on his shoulder.  But Misha has to go to war.  The Germans have taken Minsk.  Before he leaves, Misha gives her a book of poems because she loves poetry. 

Now the women are doing a lot of dancing.  Sarge comes over and says he will stay for awhile and watch their dancing.  Unfortunately for Sarge, it is time for the women to go to sleep.  Sarge leaves. 

In the early morning Rita heads out to see her family.  This time, however, she sees two German paratroopers.  She runs back to the Sarge to tell him about the Germans armed with automatic weapons.  Rita is given the job of picking out a detail to go with the Sarge to get the Germans.  Gunner Sonia Gourvitch will go with them because she speaks some German.  Others going are Zheyna, Galka and Lisaveta (who volunteered).  Off they go.  They are supposed to be back tomorrow.  To get ahead of the Germans Sarge takes them on a short cut through the marsh.  The marsh proves very difficult to cross.  Galka loses one of her boots in the muck and mire.  Rita is short and has a hard time wading through the mud.  Zheyna falls straight into the mud.  They finally do make it out of the marsh.  Sarge has them rest and he fixes up a marsh boot for Galka. 

While resting Sarge tells them that the enemy has to come between the two lakes in the area. Later he tells them that the enemy is moving to the Lake Vop sector to get to the Kirov Railroad and the White Sea Canal.  Zheyna asks if the Sarge is married and he says yes. He says he lost a boy.  His wife had walked out on Sarge and grandmother couldn't save the boy who became sick. 

The group reaches their destination and they each take up an assigned position.  Sarge goes around checking on each soldier.  He finds Sonia reading out loud from her poetry book.  He tells her not to read out loud because the dawns here are quiet and a voice can be heard ten miles away.  

In the early morning Sarge hears and sees that the magpies are all upset about something and he thinks it's the Germans.  He wakes Rita and then she wakes the other women.  She lets Chetvertak sleep because without a second boot she developed a fever.  They start counting the Germans and the number is not two.  The number is sixteen German paratroopers. 

Back to the present.  The campers are still having a fun time by the lake. 

 

Part II.  A Minor Local Fight. 

Flashback.  Sarge tells Lisaveta to run back to the anti-aircraft gun emplacements and tell them that there has been a change in their situation and their force won't be enough to cope with it.  He tells her to leave her weapon and ammunition behind.  Sarge tells Lisaveta to be very careful heading back over the marsh.  Lisaveta says she can do it!  She heads out. 

Sarge tells the other four that the Germans will be here in about three hours.  The women come up with a plan.  Everyone will act as if they are wood cutters.  They will make a lot of noise, the Germans will hear it and decide to take the long way around the lake which will be a twenty-four hour delay in order to not be discovered.  As the Germans get close the grouop start making a lot of noise and even chop some trees down.  As part of the charade Zheyna strips down to bra and panties and goes for a swim in the lake.  Sarge plays along and goes to get her after she has been in the water for awhile.  When they think the Germans are leaving the area they relax.  Sarge expresses his gratitude to the women.  They have a drink of liquor to toast to Lisaveta's fast legs. 

Sarge decides he must find out where the Germans are now.  He takes one of the women and goes on a scouting expedition.  He can smell coffee and cake and knows that they have settled down for lunch.  Meanwhile, Lisaveta is running as fast as she can.  When she gets to the marsh she grabs a long pole and ties some of her clothes to it.  She then sets out.  She is pushing herself too hard.  Totally exhausted she falls off the trail and into a pit of deep mud.  She cannot get out of there and goes under. 

The women catch up to Sarge.  He asks for his tobacco pouch, but no one remembered to grab it when they left.  Sarge acts so broken-hearted and downcast that the poetry-loving Sonia heads back for it.  Sarge yells at her not to go, but she is off and running.  After awhile, Sarge says he thinks he heard a yell from Gourvitch.  He and Zhenya go to see what happened to her.  They find a lot of her blood first.  Sarge says it was a slaughter.  Then they see her boots.  They come closer and find her dead body.  Sarge says this was all his fault.  Now he wants to find and kill the killers.  He sees two German soldiers. 

Sarge sets up near the path he figures the men will use.  He has Zhenya hide up on a flat cliff.  When the two men just pass by her position, she pushes a rock onto the trail.  This startles the men and Sarge grabs one of them and slits his throat.  He has to really struggle with the other German.  The German starts to get the upper hand.  He is able to get the knife from Sarge and now Sarge desperately fights to stop the German from stabbing him.  Suddenly Zhenya hits the German from behind with her rifle butt and he's slumps forward.  Sarge finishes the job.  Zhenya then gets sick to her stomach and throws up. He takes the Germans' automatic weapons and their ammunition.

Sarge tells Zhenya to get the other women and bring them to the place where Sonia was killed.  He will meet them there.  They all meet together.  The women are upset at seeing their comrade's dead body.  Sarge takes the boots off Sonia's body and tells Galka to put them on.  Galka refuses.  Sarge orders her to put the boots on. 

The group goes looking for the Germans again.  They get into a firefight.  They kill a few of the Germans and the others pull out.  Zhenya and Rita are upset because Galka did not participate in the fight.  Rita wants them to have a meeting and charge Galka with cowardice before the enemy.  Sarge, however, refuses to hold any meetings.  He wants to find those Germans again.  A little later he speaks with Rita alone.  He tells her as a leader, she definitely has to lead, but sometimes a leader has to be a teacher too.  To show her, he decides to take Galka with him to find the Germans' new position. 

Sarge learns that Galka is only seventeen years old.  Two Germans are coming their way.  Sarge tells Galka to hide off the path to stay out of the fight to come. The Germans pass right by Galka's hiding position.  After they pass by her she panics and starts running away.  The Germans mow her down.  The Sergeant starts firing at the two German soldiers.  More Germans come up and now they are all after Sarge.  He leads the Germans away from the two remaining female soldiers.  He is wounded in the left forearm and has to bandage himself. 

Back at the anti-aircraft positions, the women start really worrying about Sarge and the five women.  The Section Leader says that they will make it. 

Falling back and back Sarge suddenly finds himself by the marsh.  He sees in the marsh a long pole with a Russian uniform folded and tied to it.  He suddenly realizes that Lisaveta is dead.  Sarge finds the Germans again.  This time they are staying at a cabin in the forest.  A number of the soldiers go out on patrol.  One of the Germans comes out of the cabin to get some water from the well.  Sarge shoots him dead with his pistol.  He then grabs his automatic weapon and the ammunition.  Germans still in the cabin starts shooting in his direction, but he leaves the area.  He returns to the place where they first confronted the German unit. 

The two women find Sarge and everyone is happy to be reunited.  They hug and kiss each other.  He tells them that now he is their older brother.  The women tell him that they buried Galka.  Sarge then tells them about the death of Lisaveta in the marsh.  They drink a toast to their dead comrades and stand in silence for a moment.  Sarge then tells the women to leave and that's an order!  They refuse.  He shouts out the word "insubordination!"  They still refuse to leave.  So now his order to them and himself is to:  "Hold on!. . . There's no room for Germans here." 

The Germans start coming up on their position and open fire on them.  Not having any luck with a frontal assault on the Russians, some of the Germans start moving around the lake to get behind the enemy.  One throws a grenade and the shrapnel from it hits Rita.  Zheyna and Sarge cooperate to give her some first aid.  Sarge leaves for a minute and Rita tells Zheyna:  "The Germans.  Get the Germans!"  Zhenya take her rifle and the German automatic weapon and starts shooting again.  Sarge comes back and tells Rita she will make it.  Rita tells him that Zheyna is leading the Germans away from them.  Four Germans rush after the running Zheyna.  Zheyna shoots one of the four and still keeps running.  The other three won't give up either.  She runs out of ammunition and picks up a rock to throw at them.  They shoot her a couple of times, but she still tries to throw the rock.  They shoot her again and she dies. 

Rita asks Sarge if Zheyna died instantly.  He assures her that she did (even though she didn't).  Sarge also tells Rita that the Germans have gone after their explosives. 

Sarge feels terrible about losing four of the five women and having the other one with a bad wound.  He wonders what he will tell the military officers that are bound to question him about what happened.  Rita tells him that they fought for their country.  "Don't torture yourself."  Rita now tells him about her family and her daily trips to see her mother and son in the early morning.  Rita tells Sarge to cover her with branches and return to base camp.  Sarge leaves her with his pistol with two bullets in it.  He covers her with needled tree branches.  Sarge leaves.  He doesn't get far before he hears a pistol shot.  He rushes back to check on Rita and finds that she has killed herself with the pistol.  Now all five women of his detail are gone. 

Sarge gathers up some weapons.  He travels back to the cabin used by the Germans.  Sarge sneaks up on the guard and kills him with his knife.  He then rushes into the cabin, kills another German and grabs his automatic weapon.  He tells the three remaining Germans to get into the corner.  He says he is going to kill them.  But instead he takes them prisoner.  He mocks them for being completely stopped by a bunch of girls.  He starts walking his prisoners back to base camp.  But Sarge is so exhausted that his eyesight becomes blurry.  Just about to pass out, he catches a glimpse of a larger group of Russian soldiers running toward him and his prisoners.  Breathing a sigh of relief, he collapses. 

Back to the present.  The campers are still going strong.  One young woman is given a bouquet of picked plants by a young man.  She is very pleased and walks around the area with them in her arms.  She suddenly comes upon two men in the forest.  The young man of the two is in military uniform.  The other man is older.  It's the Sarge and his son who have come to visit the plaque honoring the five women killed in this lake area.  The woman reads the plaque and understands what's going on.  She places her bouquet of plants below the plaque and stands with the men for a short while.  At the bottom of the plague are the words:  "Eternal glory to those who died for their country."

 

Enjoyed the movie very much.  It's a good story with a different twist, dealing with female soldiers fighting for Russia against Hitler's Germany.  The women wanted to be treated equally with men and not as weak females.  They performed as well or better than many male units.  Yelena Drapeko, who played Lisaveta Britschkina, says in the Special Features that when she was young and she and the other children would play in the woods, they would find little red flags indicating a grave of some soldier who died while fighting for mother Russia.  She was born right after the war and remembers playing in ruined homes and bomb craters.  Some of the boys at her school found a shell and started playing with it.  The bomb went off killing the children and to this day she remembers how the mothers cried so pitifully at the funerals  --  still more victims of World War II after it was over. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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