Plot: “In 1941, a 16-year-old aspiring artist and her family are deported to Siberia amidst Stalin’s brutal dismantling of the Baltic region. One girl’s passion for art and her never-ending hope will break the silence of history,” according to IMDB.
Review: For my second film of the Los Angeles Film Festival, I stumbled across a movie that stirred within me the same emotions of injustice that I experienced the first time I watched “Schindler’s List” and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.”
Instead of Adolph Hitler as the seat of evil, this film focused on Joseph Stalin’s lust for power and his hellish takeover of the Baltic states. As a 34-year-old American, this wasn’t a story that I knew. As a moviegoer, I am so very appreciative of new and fresh premises deserving of attention and anything that makes us realize perception is reality.
This movie begins in an ideal setting. Father home from work, roughhousing with the boy, daughter consumed with her art, and mother holding the home together. This is a house of love, but instantly you know something is brewing underneath the surface. Soon, lives will be torn apart and you as an audience member will be asked to wrestle with a profound question; ‘What is worse, the evil men do in the darkness or the evil they do in the light?’
In the blink of an eye, our ideal setting is ripped apart. The father is nowhere to be found and the mother is left with her children. They are placed on a train headed for Siberia to work in a Labor Camp. Their crime? My best guess is failing to show loyalty to Stalin. With nothing left but the shirts on their backs, our little family is left clinging to hope. Hope that their father is still alive. Hope that someone will come to the rescue. Hope that they will be saved.
Life in a Labor Camp is hell. Damned to this world for 25 years, communities that once proudly watched out for each other shift into survival mode. It is here that we learn a valuable lesson; cowards sell their souls. Moments such as these work and are allowed to linger because tension is key. Stalin’s soldiers are unpredictable, forceful, and loyal. This keeps you on the edge of your seat and guessing about matters of life and death.
At times, there is more darkness in this film than any person should be asked to bear. Still, there are bright spots; young love flourishing in the worst of conditions, the unflappable love of a mother, and the pure hope of children. As the credits roll, it is the hope you will remember. As an American, I was also left with another thought; I see you. We all see you.
Be good to each other.