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Enemy at the Gates

film poster
Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Produced by Jean-Jacques Annaud
John D. Schofield
Written by William Craig (book)
Jean-Jacques Annaud
Alain Godard
Starring Jude Law
Ed Harris
Rachel Weisz
Joseph Fiennes
Bob Hoskins
Gabriel Thompson
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Robert Fraisse
Editing by Noëlle Boisson
Humphrey Dixon
Distributed by Paramount Pictures (US)
Pathé (UK, France)
Release date(s) March 16, 2001
Running time 131 minutes
Country United States
Germany
United Kingdom
Ireland
Language English
German
Russian
Budget $68,000,000[1]
Gross revenue $96,976,270[1]

Enemy at the Gates is a 2001 war film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, starring Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes and Ed Harris set during the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II.

The film's title is taken from William Craig's 1973 nonfiction book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, which describes the events surrounding the Battle of Stalingrad from 1942–1943.[2] It is based on a duel mentioned in the book that developed between Soviet sniper Vasily Grigoryevich Zaitsev and his German counterpart, Major Erwin König, as they stalk each other during the battle. The movie is also partially based on the book War of the Rats.

Contents

Synopsis

Stalingrad, 1942. The German invasion of the Soviet Union has reached the city of Stalingrad, which has been reduced to rubble. Vassili Zaitsev (Jude Law), a poorly educated peasant from the Urals who volunteered for the Red Army, manages to survive a suicidal charge without a weapon against the German front lines and the NKVD machine gunners shooting survivors who tried to retreat. Acquiring a rifle, Zaitsev — an expert marksman due to hunting for almost his entire life — manages to kill five Germans with the only five bullets he has, impressing a witnessing political commissar, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes). Writing an account of Zaitsev's achievement in the military newspaper, Danilov manages to inspire the people of the Soviet Union to renew their efforts against the German invaders, and Zaitsev becomes a national hero and propaganda icon.

The bond between the two men is to be tested, as both have fallen in love with Tania (Rachel Weisz), a citizen of the city who has volunteered in the local militia. To counter the highly effective Soviet snipers, Major Erwin König (Ed Harris), the top sniper in the German army, is assigned to seek out and eliminate Zaitsev. König had come to Stalingrad partly because his son was killed there.

Plot

The story focuses on the exploits of Vassili Zaitsev (a character based on the real-life Vasily Zaytsev and played by Jude Law), a Ural peasant who was taught how to hunt and shoot by his grandfather (his father having already died), now fighting on the Soviet-German Front of World War II. A Red Army soldier, he is traveling in a train's cattle car along with other soldiers and civilians, where he notices a young woman (Rachel Weisz) before the train is converted into a military convoy headed for Stalingrad, which is now under attack by the German Army. Upon arriving on the city's outskirts, the soldiers attempt to cross the Volga on unprotected river barges, bombarded by German Stuka dive bombers and artillery, resulting in many casualties. When the survivors disembark on the other side, half of them are given Mosin-Nagant rifles; while the rest, among them Vassili, are given only a five round clip of ammunition. As their comrades are shot down, the men with the clips are to use the dead men's rifles. In a hopeless charge against the well-armed Germans, the Red Army soldiers are massacred both by the enemy and by several Soviet NKVD machine gunners who cut down anyone who attempts to retreat.

After the assault, a car races through the streets, under artillery fire. Knocked off the road, the driver — Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), a Soviet political commissar and Lieutenant — flees to the safety of the drained Barmaley Fountain and feigns death amongst the corpses within. Here he comes upon Vassili, also feigning death, and watches with amazement as the young soldier kills four nearby German officers and a soldier with five shots from the M91/30 Mosin-Nagant rifle with impeccable accuracy. Later, Nikita Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins) arrives in Stalingrad to coordinate the city's defenses. He demands suggestions to improve morale, and Danilov suggests publicizing "heroes" for the people to idolize. Vassili's exploits are soon national news, and are regularly published in the army's newspaper. Danilov, now a senior lieutenant and on the general staff, tells Vassili that he is transferred from the regular forces to sniper division. As Zaitsev and his fellow snipers take their toll on the German forces; he and Danilov become friends. Vassili learns that the girl he had seen on the train and whom he had harbored romantic thoughts for, (Tania), is a private in the local militia. Danilov, smitten with the woman, arranges to have her transferred to an intelligence/intercept unit away from the battlefield, using her ability to speak German as the justification.

With Zaitsev's increasing fame, and the high casualties (especially officers) being inflicted by the Soviet snipers, Major Erwin König (Ed Harris) is deployed to Stalingrad to help counter this new threat. A renowned marksman himself, and head of the German Army Sniper School at Zossen, the aristocratic König begins plotting how to best take out Zaitsev.

The next day, Vassili, along with two other snipers, is tasked with killing a German sniper lurking in the Department Store sector. Zaitsev, now a sergeant, apparently dispatches the enemy with a single shot. When two of them go to retrieve the man's dog tags, they discover that it was only a decoy. The still-hidden König, having already killed their other team member without their knowledge, kills Ludmilla (Sophie Rois), the sniper accompanying Zaitsev, during an air raid after she panics; Zaitsev manages to escape. When the Red Army command learns that Major König was sent to specifically kill Vassili, a fellow sniper (and former student of König's before the war) named Koulikov (Ron Perlman) is sent to assist Vassili in dispatching the major. Along with a third sniper, Volodya (Ivan Shvedoff), they attempt to hunt down and kill the major. Volodya, however, is captured, dressed up in a German uniform, and is sent out into the open as bait, where Koulikov, mistaking him for a German, kills him and exposes their position. Returning to the shelter, Koulikov is killed by Konig, shaking Vassili's spirits considerably.

After a drinking conversation with Khrushchev, in which Danilov is pressured into seeing the sniper business finished, Danilov goes to see Tania. After making an advance, Danilov realizes she is Jewish. She tells him about her father's wish to live in Palestine. Because they were Jewish, her father believed in their duty to defend Palestine, and in order to defend Palestine he taught her how to shoot. She requests a favour from Danilov: that he reassign her to sniper division. Subsequently Danilov asks a favour of Vassili: that he convince Tania that sniper division is not a place for her.

Vassili goes to Tania and attempts to convince her that sniping is more intimate than infantry fighting. Tania is not swayed and tells Vassili that she recently read a dispatch that listed Jewish people the Germans had rounded up to ship from Stalingrad to Germany. Her parents were on the list and were executed: the Germans stopped the train over a bridge and bound couples and families together in pairs. To save ammunition they only shot one person from each pair, the other being drowned in the river by the weight of their loved one's dead body. Upon hearing this, Vassili immediately hands Tania a sniper rifle, telling her it was Koulikov's. She accepts and thanks him.

Danilov recruits a double agent, a young boy named Sacha Fillipov (Gabriel Marshall-Thomson) - a patriotic youth who occasionally does small jobs for the Germans in order to get more food. Sacha is positioned to give König false information about Vassili's whereabouts, allowing Vassili opportunities to ambush him. During the first attempt at the tractor factory, aided by Tania, Vassili succeeds in wounding the major. For the second attempt, Vassili waits for the major at a chemical factory, where after many hours, Vassili falls asleep, during which his sniper log is taken by a looting German soldier. König is summoned to German army headquarters and is told by General Paulus (Matthias Habich) that Zaitsev is dead and that König's job in Stalingrad is finished. König refuses to leave and turns in his dog tags and his fallen son's War Merit Cross to Paulus. Eventually König discovers that Sacha has been helping Vassili all along and tells Sacha that he is upset about what he has to do and the scene fades out. Sacha's corpse is discovered hanging from a pole by Tania and Vassili. An enraged and grieving Tania grabs her rifle with the intention of hunting down König but is stopped by Vassili, who swears to kill König and bring back the German's rifle for her. Tania then leaves to rely the news to Danilov, and the two go to see Sacha's mother, Mrs Fillipov. Having not the heart to tell her how her son died, Danilov tells her that Sacha became a traitor, and has 'gone over' to the German side. Danilov and Tania then convince her to pack up her belongings and evacuate the city.

Vassili and Danilov's mutual attraction to Tania causes tension between the two men, especially when Tania finally chooses Vassili as her lover. This personal conflict comes to a head when Tania is presumed to be dead after being struck down by shrapnel. As Vassili and Danilov hunt for König to avenge Sacha, Danilov laments his jealousy for Vassili and his disenchantment with the communist cause as a result. Danilov then exposes himself in a final act of friendship, allowing König to shoot him and revealing the major's position. König goes to inspect the body, assuming it is Vassili, but belatedly realizes he has fallen into a trap. He pauses, removes his field cap and turns to face Vassili before being shot down himself.

Two months later, it is revealed that Stalingrad is liberated and Zaitsev finds Tania in a field hospital, safely evacuated and recovering.

Main cast

Locations

Criticism

The film was criticised both in Russia and in the West for taking considerable liberties with the facts; in both its plot and in the depictions of its characters (notably Fiennes' character, Danilov, and the German sniper König), it varies widely from the historical record.[citation needed] For example, the film features a scene where Commissars are herding a crowd of unorganized Soviet soldiers, half of them without rifles, mounting wave after wave of suicidal attacks against German troops armed with tanks and machine guns. These fictional officers (there were no commissars in the combat roles[citation needed]), depicted as repulsive sadists, use whistles, megaphones and machine guns as means of controlling the soldiers. This scene depicts "zagradotryads," (barrier troops) contradicting Russian characterizations of the aptitude and fighting spirit of Soviet troops in the Battle of Stalingrad. Some Soviet Stalingrad veterans were sufficiently offended by the portrayal of the Red Army, that on 7 May 2001, soon after it was shown in Russia, they addressed their grievances to the State Duma, demanding the film be banned. This request was not granted.[4]

Historian Antony Beevor suggests in his book, Stalingrad, that, while Zaitsev was a real person, the story of his duel (dramatized in the film) with König is fictional. Although William Craig's book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad includes a "sniper's duel" between Zaitsev and König, the sequence of events in the film is fictional.

While the main characters are based on historical figures, with the exception of Danilov and possibly Konig it is highly unlikely that they ever intersected or had contact with each other.

The German-Russian writer Wladimir Kaminer played an extra as a Russian soldier in the film. In his book Russendisko (2000), Kaminer criticizes how the Russian soldiers are portrayed as hooligans getting drunk and playing farting games.

Notes

  1. ^ a b "Enemy at the Gates". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 2008-09-28. http://www.webcitation.org/5bB1UIUVV. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  2. ^ Interview with Jean-Jacques Annaud in German, referenced by Constantin Film
  3. ^ http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/stalingrad/rattenkrieg.aspx
  4. ^ "VETERANS UPSET BY WESTERN MOVIE ON STALINGRAD", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Newsline, Volume 5, No. 89, Part I, May 10th, 2001 - http://russian-news.com/archive/2001/msg00182.html

External links








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