Eleanor Roosevelt remembers the first time she met Lyudmila Pavlichenko, the female sniper with 309 kills, back in 1942 when she was member of the Russian delegation visiting the USA. Accepted at Kiev State University in 1937, Lyudmila was more eager to serve her nation on the front lines. A friendly shooting contest with her friends landed her the attention and recommendation of a Russian army rifle instructor. She was sent to a six-month weapons training. After the training she rejoined her friends Masha and Sonia who took her to an outing at the beach. There Sonia introduces Boris to her, while Masha hooks up with an airman Grishka. Soon the war was upon them and Lyudmila and Masha were pulled to the front lines in Odessa by 1940. Lyudmila served as a sniper. She was very good at it. Once she was able to shoot twice at the same spot at a tank’s armored glass, enabling her captain to kill the driver. The captain Makarov then ordered her to be a unit with him, alternating as shooter and spotter.
Eleanor Roosevelt also remembers that Lyudmila was a fluent English speaker and that everyone never see the woman in her but instead the Lady Death which she was named. Soon Lyudmila and Makarov entered into a relationship. But one day in battle, an explosion buried Lyudmila under the dirt and Makarov saved her. At the hospital the military doctor was Boris, and he saw how Makarov cared for Lyudmila. During this time, the army was ordered to abandon Odessa and retreat to Sevastopol. When she recovers, Lyudmila insisted at Boris to sign her recommendation letter so she could rejoin the fight. A fellow sniper gives Lyudmila Makarov’s rifle since he died. She rejoins the fight which is now about the defense of Sevastopol. She got a new superior, Captain Leonid Kitsenko. They became a very effective unit, sniping out enemy officers, radiomen, heavy gunners, and of course enemy snipers. The Germans even sent one of their best snipers, Otto von Singer to hunt Lyudmila, but she got to him first. Lyudmila entered into a relationship with Kitsenko.
Eleanor also remembers that she invited Lyudmila to live in the White House with her for some time, and they shared good times together. But Eleanor found Lyudmila cowering in fear over a loud noise. It’s because she had a trauma when she lost Kitsenko to a landmine exploding at them. She was injured badly from it and the Germans use the news as propaganda. But the Russian army rushed to her and insisted at her taking a photograph as counter propaganda. When she felt better, again she insisted at Boris to sign her papers. But Boris only left a note that she was unfit for military service and let her escape the city. Eleanor Roosevelt’s Moskow entourage says that Nikita Kruschev can wait while she visits her old friend Lyudmila Pavlichenko.
The story is quite nicely written, especially when we know that this is not a Hollywood based movie. The use of the back and forth story flow gives both acts of time lines of the story adequate significance to the movie as a whole. Yet again, as this is not a Hollywood based movie, I think it should be quite tolerable that there are some shortcomings within the movie.
The romance part seems lagging in places. Out of the two romances Lyudmila had with her comrades, both Makarov and Kitsenko received very little character development. The movie only focused on the mannerisms and physical depiction of the men. Yet there’s little to no background at all about these characters that would give the romance side more weight for the movie.
The character relationship are also quite imbalanced. It feels very strange that the movie didn’t give any more dramatization of Makarovand Kitsenko’s demise, and also Boris’s sacrifices for Lyudmila. It’s clear that the movie producers didn’t quite willing to take risks and alter real story a little bit to obtain the more dramatic effect.
The war side is depicted well enough, even though there’s not much to see. The movie mainly uses coloration play and camera zooms and movements to obtain the effect of a live war reporting footage. There’s less thrilling action in this movie, for it focuses more on the biographical story of Lyudmila. Although I quite like the tank shooting scene, which quite a feat if it’s done in the real world.
The acting overall is just a decent job in my opinion. Yuliya Peresild did well enough in portraying the inherent sniper’s cool in Lyudmila, even in her daily life. Evgeniy Tsyganov and Oleg Vasilkov did quite well in playing the love interests. Joan Blackham did nice in portraying Eleanor Roosevelt, her performance give the needed weight on the White House visit parts.
Sure this movie didn’t quite meet my expectations as to seeing something like Vasily Zaitsev’s story in Enemy at the Gates (2000). But the biographical side felt adequate enough in telling the story of one of Russia’s heroes. A score of 6 out of 10 is from me and a recommendation only goes out for those who really are curious about war stories.
Review by Seraphion