Putinist forces wage a dirty war against Ukraine, it is hard to avoid the
sinking feeling of history repeating itself. However, there is some history he
and his separatist lackeys would be advised to remember. The Soviets did their
best to banish any mention of the armed resistance to their Baltic occupation from
the media and the history books, but the truth will out. The heroic struggles
of Lithuania’s partisans are chronicled in Jonas Ohman, Vincas Sruoginis & Mark Johnston’s
The Invisible Front (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Baltic Republics were caught in a tight spot during WWII, trapped between two
ruthless totalitarian systems. When the Soviets reconquered the Baltics at the
end of the war, they commenced a brutal crackdown, hoping to beat the occupied nations
into submission. It had the opposite effect.
its height, one out every twenty Lithuanians was directly involved with the
armed partisan resistance, known as the Forest Brothers—a staggeringly high
percentage given the risks. Juozas Lukša emerged from the ranks as the movement’s
inspirational leader. He was a warrior when necessary, but first and foremost,
he was a journalist documenting Soviet atrocities.
memoir of resistance, The Forest Brothers,
provides much of the film’s descriptive commentary, augmented by the testimony
of surviving partisan supporters, as well as some of the occupying Soviet
oppressors, at least one of whom has since had a change of heart.
Unfortunately, America plays the role of the absent cavalry in this story,
never interceding on behalf of the Baltics as the Forest Brothers hoped and
prayed. It was certainly not for a lack of trying on Lukša’s part.
times he clandestinely traveled to the west, hoping to spread awareness of
Soviet human rights abuses and thereby spur western action. His efforts were
not completely wasted. He met his future wife, Nijolė Bražėnaitė while on
assignment in Paris. Needless to say, their romance would be sadly cut short.
through the prism of Lukša’s life, Invisible
begins as a war story, evolves into a surprisingly tense tale of espionage,
with a heartbreaking romance embedded right in its center. All our stirring
stuff, but it is the love story of Lukša and Bražėnaitė that really cries out
for a dramatic feature treatment.
& Sruoginis scored some impressive on-camera interviews, including Bražėnaitė,
former Lithuanian President Valdus Adamkus, and at least one former Russian officer
who does not realize how ominous it sounds when he explains they referred to
duty in the Baltics as the titular “Invisible Front” because of the complete
news blackout throughout the rest of the USSR. (Yet, nobody can say they did
not give the other side a chance to speak for themselves). Lithuanian pop
vocalist-actor Andrius Mamontovas (excellent in Hong Kong Confidential) adds further domestic star power,
sensitively narrating passages from Lukša’s memoir.
Invisible Front is a tightly
constructed documentary, arriving at a precarious moment in history, with
Putinist Russia is openly aggressing against a free and unified Ukraine. Keenly
aware of the film’s timeliness, the production team has started raising funds
to supply body armor and medical kits to Ukraine’s volunteer Self-Defense
Brigades. It is a worthy cause and a worthy documentary. Ultimately, it is an
inspiring film, but it is eerie just how directly it speaks to events unfolding
in Ukraine. Highly recommended, particularly for younger viewers who did not
live through the Captive Nations era, The
Invisible Front opens this Friday (11/7) in New York, at the Cinema
Labels: Communism, Documentary, Lithuanian Cinema