A little known chapter in World War II history pitted brother against brother in one of the bloodiest conflicts of the war. From director Elmo Nüganen comes 1944, Estonia’s biggest domestic box office success and the country’s Official Entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Academy Awards®. On August 1, this “gritty war epic” (Variety) debuts on DVD and Digital from Film Movement.
Revealing the tragic aftermath of the invasion and occupation of Estonia after the onset of WWII, 1944 recounts one of the most painful chapters of 20th century history for the beleaguered Baltic country. First seized by Soviet Russia, then by Nazi Germany, Estonia ended up with more than 50,000 men of combat age conscripted to fight for the Red Army and over 70,000 for the German military. The result was effectively a civil war, with former friends and neighbors forced to slaughter each other on the battlefield.
From July’s battle of the Tannenberg Line to the Red Army’s occupation of the Sorve peninsula at the end of November, 1944 is depicted through the eyes of Estonians fighting on opposing sides. With the Russians on the offensive, the outnumbered SS dig in to repel the Soviet advance on the Third Reich. Yet, half of their infantry are local Estonian recruits, drafted from Siberian Labor camps and sent back to their homeland wearing enemy uniforms; now, they must find a way to survive one of the deadliest battles of World War II. Humanizing the conflict, director Nüganen chooses to focus on two high ranking officers: Karl (Kaspar Velberg), a country boy turned SS officer, also haunted by his inability to prevent his family’s deportation to Siberia and Juri (Kristjan Ukskula), son of a communist collaborator, recruited from the Estonian Defense Forces by the Soviet Red Army.
Estonia’s 2016 Official Oscar Entry for Best Foreign Language Film makes its North American debut on DVD and Digital August 1, 2017.