The Siege of Leningrad has long existed as one of the most cruel and drawn-out destructive battles in the history of modern warfare, with millions of lives lost in the nearly two-and-a-half years of the blockade’s existence. The Soviet forces used opportunities to evacuate a considerable selection of citizens while transporting desperately needed supplies to the front lines, all made possible through the Road of Life, frozen access across the massive Lake Ladoga. Saving Leningrad primarily takes place throughout a somewhat fictionalized recreation of the infamous soviet Barge No. 752 as it flees with its passengers from the besieged metropolis in the early days of the battle.
“…an emergency evacuation is initiated from Leningrad to cross Lake Ladoga by any means.”
In early September 1941, an emergency evacuation is initiated from Leningrad to cross Lake Ladoga by any means. Though there are numerous secondary characters, the main pair is Nastya Tkachyova (Maria Melnikova) and her cadet-gunner boyfriend, Kostya Gorelov (Andrey Mironov-Udalov). While initially treating the whole affair as an excuse for partying and picnics, the young couple soon devolves into interpersonal squalls when they find themselves on board a huge dilapidated barge, crammed in with well over a thousand people. Simultaneously, Kostya’s father Nikolai (Vitaliy Kishchenko), the base’s commanding maritime colonel, orders the struggling barge and tugboat to load overcapacity and to push out as soon as possible, with time running out on multiple fronts. Among the evacuees is the creepy gloved NKVD investigator Vadim Petruchik (Gela Meskhi), who is far more familiar to Nastya than it first seems – however, things are about to become far more complicated.
I do not know the validity of these characters’ stories, and how many of those represented in the film are based in any way on the historical figures actually present on the real Barge No. 752, but what I do know is that this film is Titanic. No…I’m referring to Cameron’s movie rather than the actual ship, but it is impossible not to see the parallels. It even commences with almost the same framing device, with an elderly incarnation of a main character recounting a massive maritime disaster by which they overcome their petty idiosyncrasies to recognize the power of the love they have for a partner (who makes no appearances in the present-day sequences), constructing the catalyst for the movie’s visual motifs around an overhyped piece of jewelry (in this case, a watch). While there are many moments of harrowing distress and anguish, made all the more palpable by the film’s sense of scale, it is just a watered-down Romeo and Juliet echoed plot, equipped with a Billy Zane-extra-level villain, because we obviously need mugging for the camera and more reasons to find the secret police more distasteful.
“…has many moments of grandiose spectacle and is competent in most technical facets….”
This also occurs in tandem with a slew of supporting characters popping in and out of the story at ill-timed moments, as if to reassure us that they still have a part to play down the road. However, these promises are nearly all anticlimactic or outright false, because some of the more interesting characters aren’t given the room by which we can dissect their motives and explore their growth before they’re gone for good. They’re all given the backseat to the pouty love plot, which I couldn’t care less about, which takes no great strides to convince me of its utility to the film’s greater cinematic experience. The worst offender however is when the film uses a far-off board room full of Nazi officers to exposit out troop and machinery movements so we can always understand that there is a battle being fought around this singular event, but provide nothing in the way of actual characters or involve them with the greater story in any other way – they might as well be giant dolls spouting radio transmissions for all the immersion it secures.
While Saving Leningrad has many moments of grandiose spectacle and is competent in most technical facets, buttressed by the recurring reality that this tragedy actually happened, the film is a shoddy send-up to the memories of those who died and those who survived, and is too easily forgotten as another substandard historical piece not worth more than a single watch-through.
"…I do not know the validity of these characters’ stories...but what I do know is that this film is Titanic."