Set in the heart of World War I, Blizzard Of Souls (aka The Rifleman) follows sixteen-year-old Arturs Vanags (Oto Brantevics), who enlists in a Latvian unit of the Russian army with his brother (Raimonds Celms) and father (Martins Vilsons). Through rat-infested trenches and extreme cold, the young man witnesses the horrors of war as friend after friend are slain on the front lines of “the War to End all Wars.” Following Arturs from the dawn of German occupation to the fight for Latvian independence, the historical war drama finds new ways to convince the audience of the age-old saying, “War is hell.”
Enlisting in the army with his father’s permission, Arturs begins Blizzard of Souls as an innocent boy with vague ideas of war. As the film progresses, Arturs sees firsthand the indiscriminate and brutal reality of poison gas, machine-gun fire, and enemy artillery. After years in the trenches and losing almost everything, all that remains is a portrait of a man lost in combat and yearning to taste freedom.
“…Arturs sees firsthand the indiscriminate and brutal reality of poison gas, machine-gun fire, and enemy artillery.”
Blizzard of the Souls transports the viewer into the lives of Arturs and his company. Director Dzintar Driesbergs perfectly blends moments of blissful innocence with the carnage and nihilistic nature of the front lines, allowing audiences to contrast humanity at its best and its most brutal. Driesberg even doubles down by using POV shots and beautiful tracking shots in every firefight, bayonet charge, or moment of intense shelling. He means to put the viewer directly into the fray of battle without ever glorifying the violence on screen. These feats would be impressive in a movie with the resources of 1917 or Saving Private Ryan; however, with a picture with a barely comparable budget, it makes every frame, detail, and battle sequence utterly masterful.
I must admit, I am incredibly picky when it comes to historical films. I graduated as a history major in college, and after years of watching history movies, or rather being forced to experience so many bland ones, I have become jaded towards them. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience watching Blizzard of Souls. It tells a Latvian perspective of World War I, rarely portrayed on the silver screen.
The drama takes the grim nature of life in the trenches and brings them to a level anyone can connect to. It is a story unique in perspective yet relatable through shared human emotion. There are moments when the film relies heavily on your prior knowledge of history or at least your familiarity with war story tropes. Despite minor hang-ups, Blizzard of Souls is a great war movie with a story that needs to be shared. The motion picture is an excellent introduction to Latvian cinema and greatly expands on the likes of Defenders of Riga (which, I believe, is the only other WWI film to focus on a Latvian perspective).
"…tells a Latvian perspective of World War I, rarely portrayed on the silver screen."