During a 2009 reenactment of a Ukrainian WWII battle, two Russians and two Ukrainians are mysteriously time-displaced to the actual 1944 battle itself – and at least one of them has been there before. Um… what?
This happens sometimes: a DVD distributor decides to release a movie which is actually a sequel to another movie, which fact is however not made apparent. Why would anyone do this? I can think of only one reason (esp. since the sequel is usually inferior to the original): they acquired the distribution rights really, really cheaply. Reasonably, they cannot be surprised at mixed reactions to such a decision.
Let me say up front, though – Paradox Soldiers is not a bad movie. The acting is generally okay and the characters feel pretty real. There is hardly anything about the visual production values that deserves criticism. The movie does however suffer significantly from lack of plot development and plot logic. The first movie apparently had the English title We Are From The Future, but I have not been able to find any such English-titled release, although the Russian original (My iz budushchego) is available from Amazon.com – without English subtitles, as far as I can see. My guess is the original movie has only played internationally on the film festival circuit. It is apparently based on a popular Russian novel. Whether the sequel is also from a book, or just an extra story spun off from the first movie, I don’t know.
Sadly, many things in the sequel do not make a lot of sense when one hasn’t seen the original movie, which by all accounts was superior. The viewer has no choice but to attempt to piece together what went on in it, which is next to impossible as it seems only half of the characters recur in the sequel. It also seems the original movie was thematically more serious, driven by a sense of history and the importance of not forgetting the traumatic realities of WWII, while the sequel, although it competently continues this theme, is almost entirely character-driven.
Paradox Soldiers takes its basic plot from a thread from the first movie involving a love triangle. I am not going to try to guess at the names of either the actors or the characters, because in comparing the cast lists of the two movies, these are not clear (IMDb.com doesn’t list any character names for the sequel, and there is no consensus about spelling – is Dyomin the same as Demin? No clue). What we have in this movie are two guys from St. Petersburg, one of which is a relatively young college professor – he is the guy who was also brought back to WWII in the first movie. While there, he got involved with a local – i.e. from that time – girl, Nina, and the sequel is basically about him finding her again. The other characters just seem to be there for added color and entertainment. The movie makers were clearly enamored chiefly of the very situation of being in the middle of a key battle, and it is this that they are mainly portraying. Tanks, shooting, trench warfare, rampant human atrocities. There are many attention-grabbing moments; some horrific, some funny. It is a well made movie which is never boring, but for an east-European production I was quite puzzled that the almost cheerful soundtrack, with plenty of electric guitar, gives the impression of all this being light entertainment rather than tense, tragic and deadly serious war. One feels forced to ask if the trademark melancholy and dystopian ambience of east-European cinema has vaporized into thin air…?
Also, as a fan of sci-fi I have to ask, how does this “time-travel” take place? In this movie it happens by exploding bombs. No logic of any kind involved, but then, I don’t think we are supposed to be logical about it. In the beginning of the movie, one of the Ukrainians desecrates a monument to the fallen soldiers of WWII, and it is hinted that the time-displacement occurs as a kind of supernatural punishment for not respecting history and the dead. This guy is indeed faced with the harsh realities of war, and he does come away a changed person, having learned his lesson. The early scenes in the movie, before they go back to 1944, are about the smoldering, petty animosity between present-day Russians (termed “Muscovites” by the Ukrainians, even though they’re from St. Petersburg) and Ukrainians, and the movie does show that this kind of hostility is silly and should not be perpetuated.
So, as light entertainment, and as a WWII actioner, Paradox Soldiers is mostly a satisfying if not well-rounded experience, with some added comedy from the situation of having present-day people running around in 1944. I enjoyed it.
The DVD is quite basic, with no particular special features. It has three trailers for other recent war movies (all, it seems, without time-travel) at the beginning.
Director: Oleg Pogodin & Dmitri Voronkov
Cast: Aleksei Barabash, Vladimir Yaglych, Ekaterina Klimova and others.
Runtime: 102 min.