Attack on Leningrad aka Leningrad (2009) Russian/UK Movie on the Siege of Leningrad

There are numerous ways to tell a story. Numerous point of views to choose. Sometimes choices are convincing. Often they are not. Attack on Leningrad belongs to the second category. The choices the film director and his team made to tell this story were absolutely not convincing. I am very disappointed. This is very sad as this movie had incredible potential. Told another way this could have been one of the very great. As it is now it’s just an average movie on a shocking theme. How sad this is, became fully clear to me after I watched the interview with film director Aleksandr Buravsky on the DVD. He had the chance to create something great, why didn’t he do it?

The Siege of Leningrad is one of the unspeakable atrocities that the Germans committed during WWII. Hitler had the idea to starve the people of Leningrad within a few weeks, maximum two months in order to gain superiority on the Eastern Front. The siege lasted 872 days. Leningrad was a big city of almost 5 million people at the time. At least 1.5 million died during the siege. I was interested in this topic since I had read Helen Dunmore’s excellent novel The Siege. It’s a daring book from a master storyteller. I had hoped for an equally good movie (the movie is NOT based on Dunmore’s book).

In 1941 a young ambitious British journalist is flown to Leningrad, together with a whole group of foreign correspondents, to cover a story on Leningrad. While the journalists are there, Leningrad is attacked by the Germans and cut off from the rest of the world. She is believed to be dead and left behind while some of the other journalists manage to escape to Moscow. A young female Russian police officer helps her. Those two extremely different women form a bond that becomes a friendship. The two women fight for their life and the lives of a few others, almost until the end of the siege. The circumstances are horrible. It is extremely cold, people are famished and die in the streets, they cut open animals that are still alive, they eat dead humans, lick glue from paper hangings. It’s all very drastic and well shown. Still the movie didn’t work because of the invention of this English journalist. It’s a tacky, pretty unbelievable and unnecessary story. The movie has Russian and English parts and whenever we see Russian parts it is strong and convincing and as soon as it moves to the English parts it is just sadly arbitrary.

Why invent a story like that when there was such a lot of material at hand? Accounts of eye witnesses, for example. In the interview Buravsky mentions the famous Russian composer Shostakovich who was in Leningrad during the siege where he composed his 7th symphony. Wouldn’t that have been a great story? Or what he said about Stalin… Apparently he could have freed Leningrad much earlier but decided against it. He deliberately let them starve as Leningrad, the former St.Petersburg, the home of the Tsars was the center of the intelligentsia and the arts. In doing so he could get rid of people who were undesirable in his regime… A dictator like Stalin was certainly not fond of intellectuals and artists or other people who were used to thinking for themselves. That would have been a great story as well.

Since it is a Russian/UK co-production I suspect the choices had something to do with funding. Too bad.

Still, for people who have never heard or are not very familiar with the siege of Leningrad this movie is a good opportunity to learn something about it. And it is watchable. The Russian cast is very good, the pictures are very nice but all in all it’s a lost opportunity for something that could have been better than average. 3.5/5