Review by Kate Devlin

2001

Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, starring Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Ed Harris                                 Enemy

The title was taken from William Craig’s 1973 non- fiction book “Enemy At The Gates; The Battle for Stalingrad”. The film is loosely based a duel mentioned in the book between the real life Soviet sniper Vassily Grigoryevich Zaitsev and a German sharpshooter ,Erwin Konig mentioned in the 1999 WWII fiction novel “War of The Rats” by David Robbins during the Battle of Stalingrad.

The film opens with the launching of the German attack against Stalingrad in April of 1942. There are scenes of panic among a horde of civilian refugees. Shocked Red Army troops are also in panic amid scenes of random slaughter by a German air attack. An NKVD shock brigade is shown shooting fleeing soldiers. There are periodic scenes of this though out the beginning of the film. This is historically accurate and did occur (and could be seen as necessary for a nation fighting a grim battle for sheer survival) but according to reviews scenes of the killing of fleeing civilians are not historically accurate.

Early in the defense of Stalingrad Zaitsev, a young sharpshooter, (played by Jude Law) distinguishes himself by his ability to shoot a large number of Germans from a distance. Zaitsev, a young man from the Ural Mountains with a background as a shepherd was trained in marksmanship while hunting wolves with his grandfather in the Urals as a young boy. Though out the film there are periodic flashbacks to this. A commissar, or Soviet political officer, Danilov,(played by Joseph Fiennes) befriends Zaitsev and begins to promote him as a badly needed hero. In an effort to stiffen morale Danilov prints up handbills announcing the “kills” of Zaitsev.

The Soviets are seen taking severe punishment from the German attack. Virtually all of Stalingrad is in ruins. There is very high death toll. People are shown living in underground bunkers or bombed out basements.

The future Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev plays a role in the film. Khrushchev, then a chief commissar, and future Soviet leader ,was sent to the Stalingrad front in May of 1942 to stiffen moral and to develop a feeling of resistance. According to Beevor’s “Stalingrad” that while Khrushchev was sent to this front he did not play a major role. Before the Soviets began their Operation Uranus counter attack, Khrushchev spent much time on troop recruitment and morale. Bob Hoskins plays a convincing Khrushchev. There is a memorable scene where the defeated former Soviet commander of Stalingrad is induced to commit suicide after Khrushchev confronts him with his failure and strongly implies that this will lead to a firing squad. As Khrushchev reviews his commissars, standing at attention, a gunshot is heard from Khrushchev’s office. The message , that failure will not be tolerated, is conveyed.

 where the defeated former Soviet commander of Stalingrad is induced to commit suicide after Khrushchev confronts him with his failure and strongly implies that this will lead to a firing squad. As Khrushchev reviews his commissars, standing at attention, a gunshot is heard from Khrushchev’s office. The message , that failure will not be tolerated, is conveyed.

In this scene Khrushchev asks his officers what they think should be done. After the usual “boilerplate” suggestions of shooting failed officers Danilov suggests giving people a positive example, something to strive for, rather than motivate people though threats and coercion. Danilov makes an impression on Khrushchev who then gives him his go ahead to expand his publicity campaign promoting Zaitsev.

There are battle scenes where Zaitsev continues his remarkable marksmanship. Articles about him appear in newspapers though out the Soviet Union. His exploits are extolled on the radio. Zaitsev becomes a national hero. There is a scene where Khrushchev takes Zaitsev and Danilov to meet high government officials. There is a huge, somewhat garish, portrait of Stalin. It is mentioned that Zaitsev has come to the favorable notice of “the Boss”, I.e. Stalin himself.

In an extended scene Zaitsev and Danilov seek shelter in living quarters in a bombed out basement to answer admiring fan letters Zaitsev had received from thoughout the Soviet Union. It turns out two families share the space. One of the residents, young woman named Tania, (played by Rachel Weisz)works in the local defense militia, There is also a middle aged woman, played by Eva Mattes, and her young son, Sasha Filipov, played by Gabriel Thompson. The residents are greatly imp

Zaitsev is provided with an assistant, an older man whom he earlier trained, Koulikov, played by Ron Perlman. Koulikov is very likable but also a “crusty” hard bitten character. He had earlier gotten into political trouble and there is an extended scene where he expresses his cynicism on Soviet communism to V and another soldier.

Zaitsev comes to be increasingly uneasy about his hero status and the public legend of him that Danilov has built up. Danilov also comes to understand that Zaitsev and Tania are now having a romantic relationship. In a fit of jealousy Danilov plans a public political denunciation of Zaitsev. while Tania , after a painful crawl though a drainage pipe assists Zaitsev in a shootout with Konig.

The various sub plots come together in a somewhat predictable climax towards the end.

The dialogue and attitude of many of the protagonists is cynical or hostile to Soviet Communism. There certainly was discontent and opposition to the regime but the way this is expressed in the film seems somewhat contrived Danilov. In addition to the scene where Koulikov complains about the system there is a similar scene where Danilov expresses his cynicism about Soviet society’s stated goal of “building socialism”. Before sacrificing himself, and thus redeeming his treachery against Zaitsev, delivers delivers an anti-communist soliloquy in a combat scene towards the end.

This film was controversial when it was first released. In may of 2001 a group of Soviet Stalingrad veterans lodged a protest against the film to the Russian Duma. At a Berlin film festival in,This film was controversial when it was first released. The film was partly booed.

The historian Anthony Beevor in” Stalingrad, The Fateful Siege, 1942-43” , says that Soviet Red Army was known for snipers and that Vassily Grigoryevich Zaitsev was the most famous sniper of them all. He says that that Zaitsev represented a “new wave of socialistic competition for number of Fritzes killed” (mentioned in the film) Beevor mentions that “some Soviet sources claim that the Germans brought in the chief of their sniper school to hunt down Zaitsev but that Zaitsev outwitted him . Zaitsev, after a hunt of several days apparently spotted his hide under a sheet of corrugated iron, and shot him dead.”Although what is allegedly, Zaitsev’s enemy’s telescopic sight is still on display at the Moscow armed forces museum, Beevor goes on to say that “this story itself remains unconvincing”. (Beevor, pgs. 203-204)

According to reviews in Amazon of War of The Rats, in the novel Tania was not Jewish but was Ukrainian background and Danilov was shot but not fatally.

Enemy At The Gates is an entertaining film. The Soviet Union suffered between 15 and 21 million casualties in what is still termed the Great Patriotic War, a fact which is still not widely understood in the West. It is a positive sign to finally see a Western made war film about Russia in WWII.
Having said this and while recognizing that in a historical film it is legitimate to dramatize and take some historic license,the film’s plotline is cliched and overly “Hollywood”. I feel that Soviet and current Russian films such as Let Me Show You (1985), The Battle for Moscow (1985), Stalingrad (1989) and others far better convey Russia’s wartime experience.

There are battle scenes where Zaitsev continues his remarkable marksmanship. Articles about him appear in newspapers though out the Soviet Union. His exploits are extolled on the radio. Zaitsev becomes a national hero. There is a scene where Khrushchev takes Zaitsev and Danilov to meet high government officials. There is a huge, somewhat garish, portrait of Stalin. It is mentioned that Zaitsev has come to the favorable notice of “the Boss”, I.e. Stalin himself.

In an extended scene Zaitsev and Danilov seek shelter in living quarters in a bombed out basement to answer admiring fan letters Zaitsev had received from thoughout the Soviet Union. It turns out two families share the space. One of the residents, young woman named Tania, (played by Rachel Weisz)works in the local defense militia, There is also a middle aged woman, played by Eva Mattes, and her young son, Sasha Filipov, played by Gabriel Thompson. The residents are greatly impressed by the presence of the famous sniper Zaitsev. Danilov is at first suspicious of her when he sees Tania’s large collection of German language books. It turns out though that Tania studied German in Moscow and is Jewish.

The rest of the film’s intertwining plotlines flow from the encounter of Danilov and Zaitsev with the residents of the basement apartments. Danilov gradually develops feelings for Tania. This is not reciprocated. Danilov also wants Tania, with her German language skills, to transfer to a position as an radio translator. Danilov asks his friend Zaitsev to intervene on his behalf bothy to express his feelings towards Tania and to convince her to transfer. When Zaitsev does so it is revealed that Tania’s parents and sister had been captured and savagely killed by the Germans. She wants to fight.

While it would seem Danilov and Tania have more in common, both being urban intellectuals and from Jewish backgrounds, an affair develops between Zaitsev and Tania. Danilov seems aware of this and tension grows between the two men. The legend and fame of Zaitsev continues to grow. In reaction to his growing fame, the Germans send out an expert sharpshooter, Major Erwin Konig, played by Ed Harris, to kill Zaitsev and thus damage Soviet morale. Konig has a problematic relationship with the German leadership at Stalingrad although the reasons for this are not fully explained.

The ongoing “sniper’s duel” between Zaitsev and Konig provides the thread for the intertwining sub plots for much of the film. Sasha, the young boy from the basement apartment, appears be working for Konig, providing intelligence on V in return for food.

Zaitsev is provided with an assistant, an older man whom he earlier trained, Koulikov, played by Ron Perlman. Koulikov is very likable but also a “crusty” hard bitten character. He had earlier gotten into political trouble and there is an extended scene where he expresses his cynicism on Soviet communism to V and another soldier.

Zaitsev comes to be increasingly uneasy about his hero status and the public legend of him that Danilov has built up. Danilov also comes to understand that Zaitsev and Tania are now having a romantic relationship. In a fit of jealousy Danilov plans a public political denunciation of Zaitsev. while Tania , after a painful crawl though a drainage pipe assists Zaitsev in a shootout with Konig.

The various sub plots come together in a somewhat predictable climax towards the end.

The dialogue and attitude of many of the protagonists is cynical or hostile to Soviet Communism. There certainly was discontent and opposition to the regime but the way this is expressed in the film seems somewhat contrived Danilov. In addition to the scene where Koulikov complains about the system there is a similar scene where Danilov expresses his cynicism about Soviet society’s stated goal of “building socialism”. Before sacrificing himself, and thus redeeming his treachery against Zaitsev, delivers delivers an anti-communist soliloquy in a combat scene towards the end.

This film was controversial when it was first released. In may of 2001 a group of Soviet Stalingrad veterans lodged a protest against the film to the Russian Duma. At a Berlin film festival in,This film was controversial when it was first released. The film was partly booed.

The historian Anthony Beevor in” Stalingrad, The Fateful Siege, 1942-43” , says that Soviet Red Army was known for snipers and that Vassily Grigoryevich Zaitsev was the most famous sniper of them all. He says that that Zaitsev represented a “new wave of socialistic competition for number of Fritzes killed” (mentioned in the film) Beevor mentions that “some Soviet sources claim that the Germans brought in the chief of their sniper school to hunt down Zaitsev but that Zaitsev outwitted him . Zaitsev, after a hunt of several days apparently spotted his hide under a sheet of corrugated iron, and shot him dead.”Although what is allegedly, Zaitsev’s enemy’s telescopic sight is still on display at the Moscow armed forces museum, Beevor goes on to say that “this story itself remains unconvincing”. (Beevor, pgs. 203-204)

According to reviews in Amazon of War of The Rats, in the novel Tania was not Jewish but was Ukrainian background and Danilov was shot but not fatally.

Enemy At The Gates is an entertaining film. The Soviet Union suffered between 15 and 21 million casualties in what is still termed the Great Patriotic War, a fact which is still not widely understood in the West. It is a positive sign to finally see a Western made war film about Russia in WWII.
Having said this and while recognizing that in a historical film it is legitimate to dramatize and take some historic license,the film’s plotline is cliched and overly “Hollywood”. I feel that Soviet and current Russian films such as Let Me Show You (1985), The Battle for Moscow (1985), Stalingrad (1989) and others far better convey Russia’s wartime experience.