Review by Camden Ferrell
Based on the Aleksandrs Grins’ novel, Blizzard of Souls is the first narrative feature film from director Dzintars Dreibergs. This film is Latvia’s official submission for the Academy Awards this year. Utilizing strong historical context and brilliantly staged battle scenes, this movie is haunting yet hopeful examination of World War I.
Arturs is a young man who enlists in the Army after losing his mother at the hands of German soldiers. With dreams of being a hero in his Latvian battalion, he soon finds out through brutal battles and trench warfare, that war is not what he thought it would be. The horrors of war have been examined excessively through the medium of film, but this is still a very strong foundation on which the movie is built.
Dreibergs and Boriss Frumins’ script is well-written but is not it’s most developed aspect. There is sufficient exposition for novices to this period, but it doesn’t over explain the political intricacies of the war. This works in allowing the emotions of the character’s take center stage. It makes the war a backdrop and allows each character to be a subject that stands alone in the film.
Oto Brantevics’ lead performance is somewhat shaky in its quality, but it is still commendable. It is an intense role that slowly shows the breakdown of one soldier’s morale, and Brantevics mostly does a great job of showing that struggle. There are some scenes where his acting doesn’t land properly, but he typically makes up for these inconsistencies.
The crowning achievement of this film is its battle scenes. In gruesome detail, we see the horrors, anxieties, and consequences of war. The way the scenes are blocked are extremely visceral and immersive. Some sequences elicit genuine fear and heart racing tension. It is easily one of the most thoroughly invigorating presentations of WWI on film.
The cinematography is also extremely gorgeous. Valdis Celmins brilliantly encapsulates moods and emotions in the way he lights and frames his scenes and subjects. Some parts of the movie have an optimistic glow while others are hopelessly bleak. He strikes a balance in this spectrum of emotions that really boost the overall quality of the film.
One of the film’s flaws does come from its length. At around two hours, the pace can sometimes drag in certain scenes, and it feels like the length of the film could have been reduced or reallocated to develop its themes and characters. Regardless, this is a movie that is equal parts hopeless and optimistic and warrants attention from the Academy this coming year.
Blizzard of Souls is a brutal watch that both history buffs and novices will enjoy. It’s an interesting emotional journey of one boy through the brutalities of war. Despite its length, it is very much worth a watch.
Blizzard of Souls is available through virtual cinemas January 8. (A list of locations can be found here).