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Top 10 WW2 DVD and Video: Eastern Front


Nazi Germany was beaten on the Eastern Front in World War Two but, perhaps inevitably, films involving the Western Front are far more popular in the West. There are several obvious reasons why, but quality isn't one of them: many strong, powerful pieces of cinema have been made about the battles, and these are ten of the best.

1. Stalingrad

Beautifully shot and poorly dubbed, this 1993 film follows a group of German soldiers through the famous Battle of Stalingrad in an episodic format that includes tank battles, factory storming and starvation. There is precious little about the 'big picture' because the focus is firmly on the individual men, their bond, and how they suffer in a war they haven't chosen. If you want details about the battle try pick 10, if you want a great film, try this, but get the subtitled version!
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2. Come and See

Brutal is an over-used term, but perfect for one of the most deeply affecting war movies ever made. Filmed in a frequently lyrical, disorientating style, 'Come and See' views the Eastern Front through the eyes of a child partisan, showing the Nazi atrocities in all their horror. If you felt Schindler's List was shocking, it's Hollywood syrup compared to this. One warning though: the DVD transfer is supposedly terrible and VHS copies are advised.
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3. Cross of Iron

Sam Peckinpah's take on World War 2 is as dense, violent and confrontational as you'd expect, focusing on German troops in the Eastern Front's final phase: the bloody push by the Russians all the way back to Berlin. The interplay between weary soldiers and vainglorious commanders forms the center and there’s a sense of collapse throughout. However, the edited Region 1 DVD is of very poor quality; I recommend a VHS or a different region release.
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4. The Winter War

Loved and loathed in equal measure, The Winter War follows a group of Finns fighting against Russia in the oft-forgotten Russo-Finnish war of 1939-40. Some people adore the battle scenes, some think they’re jerky and repetitive, while others love the dialogue and no-nonsense plotting; others claim the plot and characterisation have gone missing...it's the kind of film you need to decide about yourself. As with others on this list, the DVD release is of poor quality.

5. Kanal

Kanal is the story of resistance fighters who retreat into Warsaw's sewers (Kanaly) to fight during the failed uprising of 1944; failed, because the Russian army stopped and waited for the Nazis to finish killing the rebels. As you'd expect, the tone is bleak but proud, doomed but heroic and fortunately for the memory of those involved, suitably powerful.
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6. Mein Krieg

Mein Krieg (My War) is an extraordinary assemblage of interviews with veterans and the footage they filmed – privately, on hand held cameras – during their time on the Eastern Front. Material from six German soldiers has been used and, as each fought in different units to each other, there's a good range of material. However, the strength is their commentary, recollections gifting us a deep insight into the changing views and emotions of these average Wehrmacht soldiers.

7. My name is Ivan

In this highly symbolic and psychological film, Ivan is a Russian adolescent drawn into the Second World War, a conflict from which no age, sex or social group was immune. Bleak, honest and often deeply saddening, the stark and lethal reality of the war is blended – thanks to Ivan – with a child's dreamlike view of the world.
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8. Ballad of a Soldier

Ballad of a Soldier follows a Russian trooper who, by virtue of some accidental bravery, receives a pass home to visit his mother and, while travelling back through the drained country, meets a young woman with whom he falls in love. Instead of gory brutality, this film is about romance and hope, as well as reflections on how people were affected by the war. Many consider it an utter classic and it won't please those gratified solely by violence.
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9. Enemy at the Gates

The third film from this list set in Stalingrad, Enemy at the Gates was slated upon release for historical inaccuracy and a mushy love story. Nevertheless, it's a hugely atmospheric piece with stunning battle scenes and the central plot – a sniper battle between a Russian hero and a German officer – is loosely based on real life. View it as an enjoyable thriller with beautiful people and you may well enjoy it.
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10. Stalingrad: Dogs, do you want to live forever?

Less well known than the 1993 Stalingrad, this 1958 version traces the changes wrought upon one German lieutenant by the terrible battle. However, in covering many facts and events the story gets a bit lost, making this as generally more educational and less emotional than pick 1. Nevertheless, with actual footage of the battle blended seamlessly into the main film its still strong stuff and a solid compliment to the colour equivalent.
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