T-34, directed by Aleksey Sidorov, is a period Russian war film which tells the story of a Soviet soldier’s heroic escape from a Nazi Prisoner of War concentration camp. It is a compelling story set against one of the World’s darkness periods. The film focuses on the heroic efforts of one man’s struggle against the Nazis. The film follows the linear narrative of the life of T-34 Tank Commander Nikolay Ivushin. The title of the film references the Soviet medium tank used by the Russians against the Nazi German Panther Tanks to fight the war. The film is sub-titled in English.
The film narrates the life of Nikolay Ivushin, an officer and tank commander, who gets captured by the Nazis and manages to escape three years later when an opportunity presents itself. The film is situated within a historical period giving it a depth and complexity. The director juxtaposes the heroic efforts of a single man and his crew against the Nazi Germany war machine.
Alexander Petrov plays Nikolay Ivushkin, the protagonist of the film, and shines in his performance. It stars Vinzenz Kiefer as SS-Standartenfuhrer Klaus Jäger, the antagonist of the film, Viktor Dobronravov as Stepan Vasilyonok, the tankman driver, Irina Starshenbaum as Anya Yartseva, the Interpreter, Anton Bogdanov asDemyan Volchok, the tankman-machine gunner, and Yuriy Borisov as Serafim Ionov, the tankman-artillery.
The film begins in 1941. Nikolay Ivushin, a driver, manages to outsmart a German Panzer III Tank to deliver hot meals to his comrades in the village of Nefedovo, outside of Moscow. Upon his arrival, given the dire military situation, he is promoted to the position of Tank Commander. He takes charge of his crew and prepares for the imminent assault. Together with his tank crew, they thwart the Nazi Germans commanded by Standartenfuhrer Klaus Jäger but are defeated. He and one crew member, Stepan Vasilyonok, survive.
Three years later, Jäger is sent to the Thuringia, S III Concentration Camp to recruit a tank crew made up of Soviet POWs that are to man a T-34 which is to be used for target practice by the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. Jäger and Ivushin have a history. They fought each other in 1941 in the village of Nefedovo. Jäger gets his interpreter Anya to convince Ivushin to take up Jager’s proposal which he does at the 11th hour but only as a means to save her life. Ivushin is allowed to pick his crew from the selected Soviet POWs and get the T-34 ready for target practice. While preparing the T-34 for target practice, Ivushin discovers unused armaments in the tank which he and his men hide and bury with the dead Soviet soldiers to be retrieved later on. The T-34 tank they are readying is a special tank. It is equipped with an 85 mm gun. Ivushin and Anya (Jäger’s go-between) develop a bond and she proves instrumental in helping him with his plans.
The day of the tank exercise arrives and the Nazi Germans are caught off guard. The T-34 manages to escape from the camp but not without inflicting serious damage. Anya has managed to legally exit the camp and has stolen some maps from Jäger’s office to help Ivushin and his men. She is picked up by Ivushin and his crew at a bus stop. They make their way to the Czech border. Jager survives the assault and heads a posse to take them out but Ivushin outsmarts them at every turn.
The theme of victor and vanquished is a running motif in the film that stitches the film into a cohesive structure as is the element of unknown danger which weaves itself through the narrative of the film creating suspense and drama. Like any good war film, combat and rescue scenes are essential to telling the narrative of the story, and in T-34, they are riveting and make up a good chunk of the film.
It’s not only Nikolay’s bravery, courage and smarts that draws you into the narrative of the film but also the respect he derives from his crew and the camaraderie that they share. The director has woven together many visual elements including special effects, re-enactments of combat and rescue scenes, comedic touches, editing and cinematic techniques to create a fascinating and compelling film from the Russian perspective of their experience of war against the Nazi Germans. The comedic touches such as picking Anya up at a bus stop, their invasion of a German town and getting the townsfolk to surrender and serve them beer, and the budding romance between Nikolay and Anya provide a cathartic release to the shadows of darkness that are part and parcel of the film.
If you are a fan of war movies, you’ll will enjoy this period war film for it’s celebrates male and female heroism, and bravery, and doing the right thing. The director has succeeded in creating a remarkably feel good film about one man’s efforts to triumph over Nazi evil. It’s a well crafted film and deserving of your attention. Do see it for you won’t be disappointed.
WELL GO USA releases T-34 in Canada on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray combo June 11th