Fact-based historical drama as seen through the eyes of 16-year-old Arturs Vanags (Oto Brantevics), a fresh-faced Latvian teen who, along with his father, is spurred into battle after a Jerry shoots dead his mother and the family dog. (Shades of Inglourious Basterds: just moments prior to her demise — and seen from Arturs’ POV as he hides under the bed — mom offers her executioner a glass of milk.) It houses many of the stereotypes inextricably linked to Hollywood service pictures: upgrading threadbare combat boots with a pair found on a dead German; Arturs’ first kill; learning the language of love in the arms of an enemy fraulein; substituting the girl he left behind for the nurse who mended the first of his four wounds, and what war film would be complete without the old helmet-on-the-bayonet bit to indicate the source of sniper’s bullets? Director Dzintars Dreibergs skillfully argues that battle scenes can be equally effective when shot in cloudless blue daylight as under overcast skies, but it’s under the snow-blanketed cover of darkness that the film best achieves its goal of depicting the facelessness and sudden horrors of war. Ultimately, this amounts to a well-mounted Latvian recruitment film. (2019) — Scott Marks
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