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Enemy at the Gates is a war film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, starring Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes and Ed Harris set during the Battle of Stalingradmarker 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 Stalingradmarker from 19421943. It is based on a duel mentioned in the book that developed between Sovietmarker 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.

Synopsis

Stalingradmarker, 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 Uralsmarker 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 Unionmarker 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, now fighting on the Eastern Front of World War II. A Red Army soldier, he is traveling in a train's cattle truck 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 Stalingradmarker, a city that 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, only 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 in a Lieutenant rank — flees to the safety of a drained 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 five nearby German soldiers with five shots from the M91/30 Mosin-Nagant rifle Danilov hands him. Later, Nikita Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins) arrives in Stalingrad to coordinate the city's defences. He demands suggestions to improve morale, and Danilov suggests publicizing "heroes" for the people to idolize ("we need examples yes, but ones to follow"). Vassili's exploits are soon national news, 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, the author of the articles, become firm friends. Vassili then learns that the girl he had seen on the train (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 Zossenmarker, the aristocratic König immediately begins plotting how to best take out young 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, the sniper accompanying Zaitsev, during an air raid after she panics; Zaitsev manages to escape. When the Red Army command had learned 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, however, in a failed plan to draw him out, Koulikov is killed, 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 Germanymarker. 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 - that it is a good rifle. 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. Danilov then goes to tell Vassili, and as Vassili is telling Danilov that he does not believe he is good enough to take out König, Danilov assures him that next time he will be one step ahead of König, since Sacha is positioned to give König false information about Vassili's whereabouts, allowing Vassili opportunities to ambush him. This leads Vassili to wait for the major at a chemical factory, where after many hours, Vassili, exhausted, 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 is told to turn over his dog tags, also giving 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. Having not the heart to tell Sacha's mother, Mrs Fillipov, how her son died, he 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.

Running alongside the main plot is Vassili and Danilov's attraction to Tania, which causes underlying tension between the two men amidst the chaotic atmosphere, 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, 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 Russiamarker 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. For example, the film features a scene where Commissars are herding a crowd of unorganized, almost unequipped Soviet soldiers, mounting wave after wave of suicidal attacks on machine gun emplacements. These fictional officers (there were no commissars in the combat roles), 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 Stalingradmarker.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.

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.

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. Interview with Jean-Jacques Annaud in German, referenced by Constantin Film
  2. http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/stalingrad/rattenkrieg.aspx
  3. "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


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