Director Roman Shumunov and writer Simon Shechter’s Berenshtein is chockful of explosive action, sinister Nazis, and emotional conflict. This historical war drama depicts the efforts of Leonid Berenshtein (Yaroslav Kucherenko), the lone survivor of a Soviet Partisan brigade in the grips of World War II. The film begins at the front lines of a battle in Central Ukraine, where we find Berenshtein’s Soviet battalion fighting off an overwhelming German strike.
Unable to withstand the assault and with casualties mounting, the battalion is in ruins. Berenshtein survives the Nazi onslaught and finds a safe harbor in a local villager’s home. He witnesses the town under German occupation and realizes that the Nazis are searching for him. After some cat and mouse with the enemies, Berenshtein navigates the Ukrainian countryside cautiously. He intends to keep his identity and Jewish ethnicity hidden as long as he can. Eventually, he is discovered and taken in by a group of friendly Partisan soldiers, where he continues to lead in the war efforts by carrying out some much smaller-scale operations with the soldiers.
Berenshtein is done in the style of 1917 or Saving Private Ryan, only on a far less epic scale than those blockbusters. It also features a lot less action. That being said, the movie is well done, and when there are sequences of war-induced action, the lower production value is not evident. From costume design to cannon fire, the movie looks and feels authentic.
“…lead in the war efforts by carrying out some much smaller-scale operations…”
I’ve always had an interest in WWII and consider myself to have above-average knowledge of that war. Still, I was not familiar with the story of Leonid Berenshtein until now. In post-movie title cards, we learn that Berenshtein’s efforts led to the discovery of Germany’s V2 missile facility; it might be due to his Jewish heritage and Soviet origin that his story is not more widely known, though he played a fairly significant part in the dethroning of Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
Berenshtein highlights Berenshtein’s military wit, courage, thoughtfulness, and empathetic side. There are intimate moments where Berenshtein is pondering the terrible acts he has had to witness and the state of the war with a fellow comrade. He takes action by further emphasizing his compassion for others. These scenes certainly gave me pause to consider how my life has benefited from those decades in the past who rose above similar horrible circumstances for the betterment of future generations.
Berenshtein starts out very strong with the war sequences and journey of the main character avoiding dangerous situations. His interactions and relationships with others fighting in or simply affected by the war kept me in it. Ultimately this war actioner sneaks across the finish line with little fanfare as it runs out of steam near the end. What it does bring to the table is an inspiring tale of a Ukrainian-born Soviet war hero that might pique your interest in wanting to further explore the life and operations carried out by Leonid Berenshtein.
"…starts out very strong..."